Early Rice Harvest: So What's the Big Deal?

I’ve been posting all week about Jim’s early rice and you may be asking yourself “So what’s the big deal?  His rice was ready early, he harvested it and now it’s over.”  You’re right.  Those are the facts.  But like so many things we glimpse from the outside, there’s so much more going on if we take a closer look.

 rice harvest:  coming out of the field being transferred into a hauling truck

rice harvest:  coming out of the field being transferred into a hauling truck

Field Testing

Jim’s field represents 40 of only 2000 acres spread over 4 states in the southern U.S.  Crop Production Services, a company that uses their scientific knowledge to develop and test new varieties of seed, strategically selected a small group of trusted farmers from the mid-south to provide a sample of how this seed will produce in a variety of soil types.

Uniquely Designed

This rice seed was designed to have a couple of unique characteristics:  1.) a large, fluffy kernel that many American rice mills and consumers prefer  2.) a shorter growing season for the farmer.

 flooding a rice field 

flooding a rice field 

Is Faster Always Better?

In our microwave society, we often think “faster is better”, but often for the wrong reasons.  For this new variety of rice, the shorter growing season results in the rice being ready to harvest sooner which allows the farmer to put fewer total inputs (like water and fertilizers) AND another window of time to gain from the same piece of land.  So, in this case, faster is better for lots of good reasons.

 my kids walking in a ratoon rice crop

my kids walking in a ratoon rice crop

To Ratoon or Not to Ratoon

However, Jim’s choice will bring deeper gains for his farming operation, but they won’t immediately increase his profits.  When I first heard about Jim’s early rice, I assumed he would try to harvest a rattoon crop, which is a second harvesting of a field that grows and produces again after it has been harvested once.  With minimal financial input, Jim has the opportunity to harvest and make another crop on the same land using the same seed that was planted in the Spring because there’s plenty of warm weather left in the year. 

For the Bigger Good

However, Jim is choosing a higher purpose for his field.  Rather than make a little extra money this year from an additional rice harvest, he plans to plant a cover crop that will be better for the soil, the environment and the waterfowl that will come in the winter.  

 a radish from the cover crop 

a radish from the cover crop 

Off Season Work

A cover crop is planted in a field during the off season in order to control weeds, sequester carbon, replenish the nutrients in the soil and establish paths for the roots of the primary crop.  Jim has developed a unique mixture of eight seeds each with a particular purpose:  add nutrients, increase soil health, or provide food for the ducks and geese in the winter.

 taken from the cab of a combine harvesting a zero-grade rice field

taken from the cab of a combine harvesting a zero-grade rice field

Crop Rotation Returns

When a field is precision leveled to be a zero-grade rice field, there is no opportunity for crop rotation in that particular field because the land is leveled in such a way that only rice will thrive there.  By planting a cover crop, Jim will now be able to provide the natural enrichment to his soil that crop rotation brings.  

 ducks enjoying a flooded rice field in the winter

ducks enjoying a flooded rice field in the winter

Natural Partnership

Millet, a small-seeded grass grown around the world for cereal, will be part of the cover crop mixture, which will mean the wildlife will have plenty to eat during the winter months.  Rice farmers and wildlife have a great partnership.  While the waterfowl are enjoying the food and water left over in the harvested field, the soil is receiving their natural fertilizers so the crops in the coming Spring will benefit greatly.

Answer

So what’s the big deal?  Jim is choosing the long-term benefits to his soil, our environment and the wildlife over the short-term benefit of extra profit this year.  This is just one more example of how agriculture professionals are prioritizing and preserving our natural resources and our food safety.  They are intentionally making decisions because “it’s the right thing to do.”