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Natural infiltration helps water quality in rice

Rice has a good story to tell.

Forrest Laws

October 11, 2019

U.S. rice fields provide natural filtration systems that help farmers improve the quality of the water used to irrigate those crops.

That’s how Lydia Holmes, manager of industry affairs and sustainability for USA Rice, described one of the positive environmental impacts of the crop during a presentation at the Mississippi County Rice Irrigation Field Day near Blytheville, Ark.

“No-till, minimum-till – these are practices that are helping with water quality,” she said. “We don’t have specific metrics for this topic yet – all of the data we’re using are Field to Market, and they have recently implemented new water quality metrics.

“But rice has a good story here to tell, as well,” she noted, referring to a slide listing good management practices for improving water quality. “Rice is a natural filtration system, and anyone who pulls water in and uses it on rice can see the water you put in is dirtier than the water you get out.”

Those other practices include the use of grass filter strips and buffers, integrated pest management and the 4R Nutrient Management System, which is putting the right amount of fertilizer from the right sources at the right place and the right time.

“With IPM you try to stay within your pesticide budget, only putting out as much as you need when you need it,” she said. “These are things you’re already doing, but these are some of the buzzwords consumers really want to hear about.”

Rice farmers have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent since the 1980s. “That’s from using such practices as alternate wetting and drying or AWD, letting your soils dry out somewhat and reducing those emissions.”

Growers have also been switching their pumping systems to utilize more efficient fuel sources, a practice that has helped reduce rice energy consumption by 34 percent over the 36 years since the 1980s benchmark.

The creation of habitat for waterfowl is one of the rice industry’s best-known sustainability stories, she noted. Studies by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited show that recreating that habitat if rice fields went away would cost upwards of $3.4 billion.

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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