Locally grown rice is not only an important pillar of southern agriculture—it’s also integral to land conservation and farm sustainability. According to the U.S. Rice Industry Sustainability Report, published by the Rice Foundation and the USDA, the environmental, economic and social accomplishments of the rice industry over the past 36 years have led to improved water, soil and air quality as well as increased yields.
Virtually 85% of the rice consumed in the United States is grown on family farms across the six major rice-producing states: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. American rice farmers harvest approximately 20 billion pounds of rice grown on 2.8 million acres of sustainably-managed farmland. Rice that is not consumed domestically—roughly 50% of the crop—is exported to more than 120 countries around the world.
U.S. rice farmers believe in conservation practices that will maintain and improve their land for the next generation. Growing rice creates a natural filtration system that removes sediments and nutrients thus producing cleaner water when it leaves the field. Improvements in air quality have been achieved through higher yielding varieties, advancements in fertilizer application, the reduction of overall energy required to produce rice and new innovative practices such a conservation tillage which reduces CO2 emissions.
As impressive as rice conservation practices are in terms of water, soil and air, they should also be recognized for improving and enhancing vital wildlife habitats. Working the land for rice production provides millions of acres of life-sustaining resources for migrating water birds along with countless other animals that call the fields their home. Foraging water birds give back to the land in a number of ways as they search for food in the grain residue left after harvest, which helps increase soil nutrients, jumpstart straw decomposition, reduce weed and insect pressure and provide several other important agronomic advantages. While U.S. rice farmers and landowners have proudly provided critical wildlife habitat for waterfowl for decades, conservation efforts leapt forward in 2013 with the formal partnership between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited in the Rice Stewardship Partnership.
Sustainability extends beyond environmental resource impacts; to ensure the continuation of good environmental practices, farm operations must also be economically sustainable. In this regard, rice improves on-farm profitability, supports and sustains local communities and significantly contributes to the U.S. economy. In many cases, community life revolves around rice as the main economic resource, oftentimes supporting entire towns.
U.S. laws and regulations ensure a safe food supply and encourage conservation practices that improve the environment. Rice farmers are expected to comply with all food, labor and worker safety federal and state laws and regulations. Farmers follow and often go above and beyond the strict U.S. environmental standards.
Rice farmers’ commitment to voluntary sustainability practices dates back generations. Practices such as precision water use, conservation tillage and winter flooding have improved and will continue to improve over time. The data in the sustainability report clearly shows that the hard work of rice farmers is making significant positive impacts on the environment. To read the full report, visit www.usarice.com/sustainability/sustainability-report.