Home Curiosity Environmental Impacts of Rice Production: Should we eat less rice?

Environmental Impacts of Rice Production: Should we eat less rice?


Rice is one of the essential food items, accounting for a fifth of the calories consumed. This crop is grown on almost all continents, and in each of them, it is used as a component of many dishes. Growing rice, like other crops, does not go unnoticed by the environment. In this article, you will learn how this crop affects the environment, what traditional and alternative methods of growing rice are offered to farmers today and how technologies help move to sustainable agriculture.

What rice farming looks like today?

Traditionally, rice is planted heavily in fields that remain flooded throughout the growing season. Depending on the region and farming methods, this crop can be produced in several ways. In Asia, seedlings are planted in fields, and in California, seeds are dropped on flooded fields.

The seeds can also be planted in dry fields and flood areas after sprouting. Farmers also use rice in intercropping and grow it with cotton, sorghum, corn, and soybeans.

Rice is one of the most widespread crops globally and is ranked third in global agriculture. For this reason, it is vital to choose sustainable methods for its cultivation and thus reduce the negative impact of agriculture on the environment. Traditional rice production involves using pesticides to treat the seeds before sowing and nitrogen fertilizers and other chemicals to control weeds and pests. However, there is also an alternative. Organic rice farms do not use chemicals and pesticides for fertilization and plant protection. Organic farmers use other methods, including crop rotation, cover crops, and tillage.

Another cultivation method for this crop is the Rice Intensification System (SRI). This system assumes that the efforts of farmers will be mainly directed towards increasing soil fertility instead of flooding the fields. Organic additives and compost are applied to improve soil quality and increase yields.

What are rice production’s environmental impacts?

The traditional rice production methods consume large amounts of water to flood the fields. In addition, the production of this crop is characterized by methane emissions into the atmosphere. The plant itself does not emit massive emissions; microbes in flooded fields are responsible for this. This crop accounts for 10% of all emissions from the agricultural sector, and in connection with this fact, experts consider reducing these emissions extremely important.

Farmers can use various methods to overcome this challenge, including reducing tillage and flooding time. Irrigation methods such as furrow irrigation and alternate watering and drying will also help make rice cultivation more sustainable. In the United States, farmers also use various ways to trap moisture and reuse water from effluents to reduce water consumption. Pesticides and other chemicals applied for plants protection from diseases, weeds, and pests remain a critical issue. The consequences of the use of these substances are:

  • The destruction of entire ecosystems.
  • The pollution of water sources.
  • A decrease in biodiversity.

Is organic rice farming a better alternative?

Organic farming involves the refusal of chemical fertilizers and pesticides application. In California, organic rice production is widespread. Local growers use more sustainable methods to control disease, weeds, and pests. To eliminate the negative impact of agriculture on the ecosystem, farmers can resort to crop rotation, cover crops, and economical irrigation methods.

California organic rice growers are experimenting with various techniques to help reduce the ecological impact of the agricultural sector. Experimental approaches include alternative irrigation methods, including drip and sprinkler irrigation. Flooding of fields is also reduced to decrease methane emissions and conserve water. Improving soil health and growing legumes, which help retain soil carbon, are used to address environmental challenges in organic farming.

How do technologies improve rice production?

Technology is helping agriculture develop in a sustainable direction. Innovation allows farmers to control their crops better and monitor every change throughout the growing season. Rice production is also no exception, and technology helps farmers improve their yields. Today, various platforms offer a range of valuable functions, including crop monitoring.

Agricultural platforms and applications are crucial because they often provide accurate weather forecasts and alert you to potential crop threats if you choose the appropriate settings. Programs and applications enable farmers to efficiently distribute fertilizer, water, and nutrients. They also empower farmers to improve planning and make effective data-driven decisions.

Thanks to biotechnology development, biofortification has also become possible. It is a genetic modification that improves the rice itself, increasing its nutritional value. In addition, advances in biotechnology make it possible to create more resilient rice varieties that are less susceptible to diseases that would typically destroy rice plantations.

Final thoughts

Rice production can harm the environment. This crop’s traditional cultivation methods do not prevent greenhouse gas emissions and require large amounts of water to be consumed to flood the fields. Instead, crop rotation and cover crops are proposed to control various pests, diseases, and weeds. Alternatively, organic farming is proposed, eliminating pesticides and offering irrigation methods to reduce water consumption. In addition, innovative technologies can help farmers make better resource management decisions, contributing to making agriculture more sustainable.