Sustainable Agriculture - Part 2

Steven Linscombe  |  6/16/2010 6:20:09 PM

Birds in the field

Last month the concept of sustainable agriculture was discussed. It was stated that, in its simplest form, the concept can be described as the production of food and fiber using practices that will ensure the ability to continue to do the same into the future. Stated a little differently, sustainable agriculture is based on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs as it relates to food production.

An area of interest relative to sustainable agriculture is resource conservation in crop production in general and rice production specifically. Of prime importance here are efforts to minimize soil erosion and minimize water use in certain areas were water resources are limited, as well as efforts to maintain and enhance water quality. Another area of consideration is minimizing the production of greenhouse gases associated with crop production, processing to food products, etc. This relates to certain gases that have been associated with climate change. Rice is grown as an irrigated crop in the United States and thus must use a large volume of water. In addition, because rice is grown under flooded conditions, there is a large amount of methane production during the growing season. While it might be possible to modify some practices to reduce water use and/or methane gas production, neither of these are areas where huge changes can be made in U.S. commercial rice production.

An additional area of interest related to sustainable agriculture is biodiversity or, more specifically, how crop production affects the biodiversity of the region where that crop is grown. Here rice production gets a gold star. The environmental conditions under which rice is grown produce excellent biodiversity and provide habitat for a multitude of species. The co-production of crawfish in many rice fields in the fall and spring following rice harvest only enhances environment impacts in the region. Because rice is produced under flooded conditions, the environment in rice fields is different from most other agronomic crops.

Another factor of paramount importance in southwest Louisiana is that the rice production area is primarily in the coastal prairies, which are just to the north of the coastal marshes of that region. It is well-documented that this region is facing a substantial problem related to the the annual losses to the state’s coastal marshes, especially fresh and intermediate marsh. Thus, rice production in this area will only become more important in the future in providing habitat to waterfowl, as well as other water birds.

While there has been a move to more drill-seeding in southwest Louisiana rice production with the advent of Clearfield rice, a substantial amount of rice in the region is still water-seeded. In a water-seeded system, fields are flooded beginning in January or February. These fields provide ideal habitat for high priority shorebird species such as sandpipers, dowitchers, yellowlegs and stilts during this period. When these fields are worked in the water prior to planting, they also are frequented by rosette spoonbills as well as egrets and herons. Later in the growing season, after the rice has been established and the plants are flourishing, this becomes excellent habitat for numerous species such as rails, gallinules and fulvous whistling ducks.

Everyone is well aware of the importance of harvested rice fields that are re-flooded in the fall as a critical habitat for migratory waterfowl. In fact, the rice fields and coastal marshes of southwest Louisiana typically provide habitat for more migratory waterfowl than any similarly sized region in the continental United States. In addition, harvested rice fields flooded for crawfish production are excellent habitat areas for numerous water birds during the fall, winter and spring following the rice crop. Thus, in the area of biodiversity, rice is a model crop in many respects.

LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station Field Day

The 101st Rice Research Station Field Day will be held on July 1 at the research facility east of Crowley. The day will kick off with field tours at 7:30 a.m., and those wishing to take a tour should plan to arrive by 9 a.m. There will be a poster session from 7:30-10:30 a.m. followed by the general speaker session at 10:45 a.m. The event will conclude at noon with a sponsored lunch. The field day provides an excellent opportunity to obtain an update on the latest technological advances in rice production resulting from research conducted by LSU AgCenter scientists. For additional information contact Steve Linscombe at 337-788-7531

Permission granted by B.Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.
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