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Rice, a vital global food source sustaining over half the world’s population, holds a commonly overlooked truth: its production negatively impacts the environment.  

Rice uses vast amounts of water, degrades soil and water quality, and releases high levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Rice cultivation is responsible for 10% of global methane emissions. Annually, it releases 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If these emissions were categorized as a country, they would rank 4th behind China, US, and India. 

A Dexter, Missouri farm in AgriCapture’s Climate-Friendly Rice program.

As the world grapples with the challenges of a changing climate, it is essential to explore and encourage Climate-Friendly Rice cultivation. In this article, we will explore some climate-smart farming practices and how their environmental impact differs from traditional rice cultivation methods. 

Flooding’s Impact on the Environment 

Weed management is a major factor in growing rice. Traditionally, farms flood their fields during the entire growing season. Rice plants grow through the water, while weeds cannot survive in a flooded environment. Although this is an easy and effective way to manage weed pressure, it releases a large amount of methane into the air.  

Furrow irrigated rice fields in AgriCapture’s Climate-Friendly Rice program.

However, Climate-Friendly Rice growing techniques, such as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) or Furrow Irrigated Rice (FIR), significantly reduce methane emissions. AWD involves periodically drying and re-flooding the fields, while FIR cultivation eliminates continual flooding by irrigating with just enough water to keep rice plants growing. These methods can reduce methane emissions by up to 90%, contributing to the mitigation of climate change. 

Climate-Friendly Rice and Water Conservation 

As a traditionally water-intensive plant, Climate-Friendly Rice seeks to encourage water conservation.  

AWD, for example, reduces water usage by up to 30% compared to continuous flooding. This water-saving approach eliminates farm input costs, safeguards against water scarcity, and contributes to sustainable water resource management, especially in drought-prone regions.  

Climate-Friendly Rice fields are watered with a furrow irrigation system.

“The primary reasons for furrow irrigated rice adoption are to simplify crop rotations and decrease time and expenses associated with food-irrigated rice. However, additional benefits could include water savings, which will prove more beneficial as water resources are further depleted,” states the Arkansas Furrow Irrigated Rice Handbook from the University of Arkansas.  

Soil Health and Fertility 

Climate-Friendly Rice production methods can also enhance soil health and fertility. “Avoided burning of rice residue can potentially benefit soil health by returning organic matter and nutrients to the soil,” said Hannah Decker, Senior Agronomist at AgriCapture. “Additionally, efficient nitrogen management can benefit the soil by improving organic matter cycling, increasing soil biology, and minimizing nutrient loss pathways.”  

Continuous flooding can lead to the depletion of soil nutrients and the growth of anaerobic microbes, which emit methane. But, by using climate-friendly practices, we can increase profitability and reduce our dependency on chemical fertilizers, making rice production more sustainable and environmentally friendly. 

Climate-Friendly Rice is processed to create high-quality white or brown rice.

We have found that both consumers and farmers prefer climate-friendly cultivation to its traditional counterpart. In fact, 72% of daily rice consumers will pay more at a restaurant for a dish made with Climate-Friendly Rice. AgriCapture’s field-level monitoring, data collection, and climate benefit verification capabilities give consumers peace of mind that their purchase supports farmers that are conserving water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

In conclusion, Climate-Friendly Rice production is a key solution to mitigating climate change and reducing the environmental footprint of the food we consume. As we continue to uncover the potential of sustainable farming, we invite you to stay tuned for more information and updates on the Climate-Friendly Rice program and the farmers leading the way to a greener future.   

Learn more about AgriCapture Climate-Friendly Rice here.