Creating a Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation

White Rice, Brown Rice, Fried Rice, Steamed Rice – no matter how you cook it or what kind you buy, whether it’s spooned into a burrito or mixed with a bowl of hot curry, rice is an important dietary staple for many people. 3.5 billion people, to be exact. Yet rice is also one of the highest emitting agricultural products in the world. In fact, if greenhouse gas emissions from global rice cultivation were ranked alongside the highest-emitting countries, it would fall 4th behind China, the U.S., and India, producing 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.

But where do these emissions come from?

Most conventional rice is produced in fields that are flooded through the entire growing season. Paddy fields featuring pools of growing rice come to mind when picturing rice cultivation. But rice doesn’t need a field of standing water to thrive. In reality, this ancient method releases large amounts of methane gas, a top driver of climate change. The traditional, flooded growing environment decomposes plant material in the absence of oxygen to create methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Methane emissions are just one reason why rice cultivation is a top climate change contributor.

Beyond methane emissions, nitrogen fertilizer can cause an environmental headache. If excess fertilizer is applied (and is unable to be properly absorbed into the soil and plants), it can transform to nitrous oxide gas or contaminate water ways via field runoff.

In some rice growing regions, burning the field to remove leftover rice straw after harvest is common. This releases black carbon, an air pollutant contributing to short term global warming. Black carbon is also the leading environmental cause of poor health, causing chronic respiratory diseases.

With a growing chorus of consumers calling for more sustainable actions and companies committing to net zero targets, transitioning to climate-smart rice growing practices is an obvious way to make a large dent in emissions from our food production system.

A Climate-Smart Solution

AgriCapture has identified three core practice areas that impact GHG emissions from rice and encourage broad environmental benefits such as water conservation and air pollution mitigation:

Efficient Water Use

Climate-Friendly irrigation methods refrain from continuously flooding fields during the growing season and ensuring the soil can aerate in advance of the first flooding event of the season, thus drastically reducing methane production and overall water consumption compared to conventionally farmed rice.

Avoided Field Burning

Alternative rice straw management practices, specifically no field burning and incorporating rice straw back into the soil prior to next season’s planting, will reduce air pollution and return organic matter back to the soil.

Efficient Nutrient Management

Efficient nutrient stewardship optimizes the nutrients applied to the rice crop to maximize uptake and minimize excess nitrous oxide emissions. Improvements can be made across the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship: right source, right time, right rate, and right place.

Industry-Leading Framework

AgriCapture has identified three core practice areas that impact GHG emissions from rice.

To help bring clarity and visibility to Climate-Friendly Rice practices, AgriCapture developed a Climate-Friendly Rice Standard that establishes a framework for  climate-smart rice cultivation. The standard provides guidance for farming techniques that reduce the environmental impact of rice production, based on peer-reviewed research and connections with agronomic researchers at universities in top rice producing states. The Standard considers environmental indicators at every stage of rice cultivation and identifies climate-smart alternatives.

AgriCapture’s agronomists and network of partners advise and ensure that the Climate-Friendly Rice Standard remains up to date with the best practices for both the farmer and the environment.

“The Standard was created to serve as a guide for climate-smart rice cultivation techniques. The growing methods we identified alongside our partners and early adopting farmers are key to achieving a more sustainable food system,” says AgriCapture Senior Agronomist, Hannah Decker.

Additionally, a network of Climate-Friendly Rice mills upholds identity preservation requirements during post-harvest processing. This promises that purchases of rice are tied to a Climate-Friendly Farmer and traced from their farm to the buyer.

Read about Climate-Friendly Rice Traceability

Third-Party Reporting and Verification 

AgriCapture operates as an independent third-party to evaluate farms against The Standard’s requirements and conduct monitoring and reporting. Specialized staff sifts through field-level primary data from the farming operation and secondary data captured from satellites and remote sensing technology to verify that rice adheres to the three core practice areas that impact GHG emissions from rice.

AgriCapture produces a Certification Report that details Climate-Friendly farming activity and subsequent climate impact, which allows farmers to differentiate the benefits of their crop from conventionally grown rice.

With access to the Certification Report, which includes field-by-field sustainability analysis, buyers can be confident their purchases of Climate-Friendly Rice adhere to The Standard’s requirements and reduce their environmental footprint.

field of rice grains

As an independent third-party, AgriCapture conducts the monitoring and reporting of Climate-Friendly Farms.

Impact Comparison

By aiming to lower GHG emissions, conserve water, and reduce air pollution, Climate-Friendly Rice is aligned with industry-wide sustainability objectives.

The AgriCapture Climate-Friendly Rice Standard supports several Sustainable Development Goals, which serve as a benchmark for setting goals and reporting on climate impact.

  • Goal 2: Zero Hunger through climate-smart cultivation methods that support sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices.
  • Goal 6: Clean Water by implementing Climate-Friendly irrigation practices which are critical to saving water and fighting drought in rice growing regions. Nitrogen use efficiency decreases water pollution and improves water quality.
  • Goal 12: Responsible production through sustainable management of water and natural resources.
  • Goal 13: Climate Action by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions at the point of cultivation.
  • Goal 15: Life on Land by decreasing excess use of fresh water and preventing biodiversity loss.

Organic rice cultivation promotes agronomic benefits, specifically tied to improving soil health and preventing GHG emissions associated with synthetic fertilizer. The advantages of organic farming are often not feasible on a large scale to keep up with growing food demand. Organic farming tends to produce less food due to prohibited use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides which means more land is required to produce the same yield as other cultivation methods. Climate-Friendly Rice farming requires efficient fertilizer application, which seeks to eliminate GHGs from excess and negligent fertilizer use.

In contrast to organic farming, AgriCapture’s Standard takes a comprehensive, holistic look at sustainable farming while setting a realistic framework for climate-smart food production. The required practices achieve high yield  in comparison to organic, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water, and promoting efficient nutrient management.

For more information on the AgriCapture Climate-Friendly Rice Standard, contact:
Emma Koeze
Climate-Friendly Product Manager
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