Where do rice grow?

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Growing Rice At Home: Learn How To Grow Rice

Rice is one of the oldest and most revered foods on the planet. In Japan and Indonesia, for instance, rice has its own God. Rice requires tons of water plus hot, sunny conditions to grow to fruition. This makes planting rice impossible in some areas, but you can grow your own rice at home, sort of.

Can You Grow Your Own Rice?

While I say “sort of,” growing rice at home is definitely possible, but unless you have a large rice paddy outside your back door, it is unlikely you will be harvesting much. It is still a fun project and growing rice at home takes place in a container, so only a small space is needed, unless you decide to flood the backyard. Read on to find out how to grow rice at home.

How to Grow Rice

Planting rice is easy; getting it to grow through harvest is challenging. Ideally, you need at least 40 continuous days of warm temps over 70 F. (21 C.). Those of you who live in the South or in California will have the best luck, but the rest of us can also try our hand at growing rice indoors, under lights if necessary.

First off, you need to find one or several plastic containers without holes. One or several depending upon how many miniature pseudo rice paddies you want to create. Next, either purchase rice seed from a gardening supplier or buy long grain brown rice from a bulk foods store or in a bag. Organically grown rice is best and it can’t be white rice, which has been processed.

Fill the bucket or plastic container with 6 inches of dirt or potting soil. Add water up to 2 inches over the soil level. Add a handful of the long grain rice to the bucket. The rice will sink to the dirt. Keep the bucket in a warm, sunny area and move it to a warm place at night.

Care of Rice Plants

Rice plants don’t need too much care from here on out. Keep the water level at 2 inches or so above the dirt. When the rice plants are 5-6 inches tall, increase the water depth to 4 inches. Then, allow the water level to lower on its own over a period of time. Ideally, by the time you harvest them, the plants should no longer be in standing water.

If all goes well, rice is ready to harvest in its fourth month. The stalks will go from green to gold to indicate it is time to harvest. Harvesting rice means cutting and gathering the panicles attached to the stalks. To harvest the rice, cut the stalks and allow them to dry, wrapped in a newspaper, for two to three weeks in a warm, dry place.

Once the rice stalks have dried, roast in a very low heat oven (under 200 F./93 C.) for around an hour, then remove the hulls by hand. That’s it; you can now cook with your very own home grown, long grain brown rice.

Carolina Gold Rice

Though it may seem like an odd time of year to read about growing rice it’s actually a really good time to start planning for next season. Rice is a long season crop and preparation this fall can really benefit your rice harvest.

There’s also a few misconceptions about growing rice that make it less popular than it perhaps should be.

The first is that rice requires flooding. Flooding is actually just a method of weed control. Rice does well in water while other plants like weeds do not. However it can be grown with just and inch of irrigation or rain per week. However if you happen to have a wet area on your property you’d like to put into production rice could be your answer.

The second misconception is that rice can only be grown in really warm areas. In fact there are varieties of rice that can be grown as far north as Vermont. SESE has varieties that are best suited to the south and mid-atlantic regions.

Lastly rice is often seen as a crop for big farmers and not necessarily backyard gardeners but you don’t need big fields or machinery to get a nice rice crop. It’s perfectly easy to grow and cultivate with hand tools. The only special equipment you need is a rice de-huller and you can find a variety of home scale models available.

Selecting & Preparing a Plot

Whether you choose to flood your rice or just irrigate it, water is probably the biggest concern when choosing a plot. Make sure it’s an area you can easy water because of its irrigation needs.

Rice also does best in fertile, nitrogen-rich soil. Compost is the perfect fertilizer for rice so if you select a plot this fall you can add about 1lb per square foot of compost and till it in. You can also grow a winter-kill cover crop like buckwheat this fall. In the spring the dead buckwheat will act as a mulch and you can plant your rice through it. The mulch will help hold moisture and prevent weeds.

Planting Rice

Hmong Sticky Rice

Rice can be planted two ways either direct sown or transplanted. For transplants seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before your desired planting date.

Direct seed or transplant rice in rows 9-12 inches apart with plants about 6 inches apart in the row. Rice isn’t always grown in rows however this method has been shown to increase yields as the rice has plenty of space and nutrients and can be easily cultivated.

Cultivation

Rice doesn’t do well with weed pressure so be sure to keep it well weeded. Small plantings of rice typically aren’t bothered by pests or disease although birds will feed on rice as it ripens so you may choose to use netting.

Harvest

The rice should be harvested once it’s dry and brown. There are two methods for harvesting. You can cut the entire plant as close to the ground as possible or cut just the seed head. Whatever you choose it should be noted that leaving the straw on the field will add nutrients and keep your soil healthy for next year.

Once harvested, rice should be threshed and winnowed. There are machines made specifically for threshing but basically you’re just trying to break other plant material free from the grains of rice. A common method is to place the rice in a 5-gallon bucket and use a drill with a paint stirring attachment to break it up.

After threshing the rice should be winnowed. This process can be done in front of a fan by pouring the rice into a bowl and allowing the fan to blow away the lighter plant material while the grains fall straight down into the bowl. This will need to be repeated several times before all the material is gone.

Unlike wheat, rice also has to be de-hulled as it probably won’t come off during the threshing process. Rice can be de-hulled by rubbing it between your hands but it’s a strenuous and uncomfortable process. If you enjoy growing rice it’s probably worth investing in a home de-huller.

Finally you can enjoy your rice! Just like other crops growing your own can allow you to branch out into more varieties and tastes than the one or two offered at the grocery store.

Rice history: Where does rice come from? South-east Asia

Rice history: A bowl of brown rice

What is rice?

Rice is a kind of grain, or grass, like wheat, millet, or barley, that provides carbohydrates to people who eat its seeds. In south-east Asia, rice grows wild like other grasses.

(More about the evolution of grasses)

Rice farming: 6000 BC – first China, then India

People probably first began to farm rice in southern China, about 6000 BC. From there, people learned how to grow rice further south in Vietnam, Thailand, and India. By 2500 BC, in the Bronze Age, people were growing rice in the Ganges valley in northern India.

(More about Stone Age China)

Rice reaches West Asia, Europe, and Africa

Rice probably reached West Asia and Greece about 300 BC with Silk Road traders. The Greek word for rice comes from the Indian word, vrihi, and all the other European words for rice come from the Greek word.

By the time of the Roman Empire, people were growing some rice around the Mediterranean Sea, in southern Europe and North Africa including Egypt (but not as much as in China or India). By 800 AD, thanks to trade with India and Indonesia, people in East Africa were also growing rice. Soon people were growing rice all over southern Africa, and by the Middle Ages people grew rice in West Africa too.

(More about the Silk Road)

Rice history: a rice paddy with a Chinese man planting rice

What are rice paddies?

Even as early as 6000 BC, when they were first beginning to grow rice, Chinese farmers were already using paddies to grow rice.

A rice paddy is a system of growing rice in artificial (man-made) ponds, which saves water and also helps to kill weeds.

You don’t have to grow rice this way – you can just plant it like wheat – but you get more rice with less land and less water (but more work) if you use paddies. Soon people used paddies to grow rice in India, too.

(More about farming in China)

Men harvesting rice in China

How is rice grown in a paddy?

You need warm, sunny weather to grow rice. When you grow rice in a paddy, you can start in the spring by soaking some rice (those are the seeds) in water for a day. Then you plant the rice in clay-rich ground, and keep the ground soaked or underwater. People used irrigation to make artificial ponds to keep the rice seedlings wet. They dug canals so gravity would make river water run out to their fields.

After about a month, your young rice plants should be seven inches high. You thin them out, moving the plants so they have enough room to grow. But they’re still underwater. Many Chinese farming families spent days every year standing knee-deep in the water, moving the rice plants so they wouldn’t be too close together.

(More about irrigation)

Rice paddies, mosquitoes, and malaria

One big problem with growing rice in paddies was that mosquitoes loved to breed in rice paddies. The rice paddies gave mosquitoes a good place to lay their eggs. And mosquitoes also carried a serious sickness called malaria. People who spent a lot of time working in wet rice paddies often caught malaria from the mosquitoes. Malaria gave you fevers and chills, and made you weak. Sometime people died of it.

(More about malaria)

Rice seed heads just before harvest

You keep the rice fields flooded for another three or four months, until they are about a foot and a half tall. Then drain out the water, and wait another two weeks for the rice to turn golden – then it is ready to harvest.

How do you harvest rice?

To harvest the rice, you cut the rice just below the seed heads, and leave it to dry in the sun for another couple of weeks. (Meanwhile, you can harvest the rice straw and use that for other things!) Then you can toast the rice to dry it even more, and then pound it in a mortar and pestle to get off the hulls. It’s a lot of work to produce rice without machines!

(More about how people used straw)

History of rice in medieval Europe

In the Late Middle Ages in Europe, people started to grow rice there. But then people started to get malaria from it. European doctors correctly blamed the standing water in rice paddies for the malaria. To try to prevent malaria, many European towns discouraged farmers from planting rice. So rice never really caught on in Europe.

(More about rice in medieval European food)

Rice history: Enslaved women pounding rice in the Carolinas

Rice history and American slavery

When British settlers came to North America in the 1600s AD, they brought rice with them. They planted rice in the south-east part of the continent where the climate was right for it (modern North and South Carolina). In the 1660s, British settlers forced the Cherokee off their land in order to grow rice on it. West African people who were forced to come to North America as slaves also brought rice with them. By the 1700s a lot of farmers were growing rice in North and South Carolina and exporting it to Europe (mainly to Germany, but also to Spain and Portugal). Rice fields helped to spread malaria in North America too.

(More about African-American slavery)

Rice history after the Civil War

After the Civil War, in the late 1800s, with their slaves free, the rich planters gave up growing rice in the Carolinas, but other people began to grow rice across the rest of the South, especially in Louisiana and Mississippi, and parts of Texas and California. Most people in Europe and North America kept on eating more bread and noodles than rice, and most people in South America continued to eat more corn. People in south Asia and South Africa ate most of the rice.

(More about rice, African food and colonization)

How to cook rice

People usually cook rice by boiling or steaming it to make it soft. The basic American recipe is two cups of water to a cup of rice. You can eat rice plain, or with a sauce of vegetables or meat or fish, or sweetened and baked into rice pudding. Or you can crush rice into a powder and use it to make rice noodles. Rice is a good source of carbohydrates (energy).

(More about how to cook rice)

Did you find out what you wanted to learn about rice? Let us know in the comments!

Rice

Protecting the world’s most important cropFollow the efforts of researchers in Manila to create more resilient varieties of rice.Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, MainzSee all videos for this article

Rice, edible starchy cereal grain and the plant by which it is produced. Roughly one-half of the world population, including virtually all of East and Southeast Asia, is wholly dependent upon rice as a staple food; 95 percent of the world’s rice crop is eaten by humans.

paddy fieldPaddy field in Minamiuonuma, Japan.S. J. WongRead More on This Topic cereal processing: Rice Cultivated rice is known botanically as Oryza sativa, only one of some 25 species comprising the genus Oryza. The importance…

The cultivated rice plant, Oryza sativa, is an annual grass of the Gramineae family. It grows to about 1.2 metres (4 feet) in height. The leaves are long and flattened, and its panicle, or inflorescence, is made up of spikelets bearing flowers that produce the fruit, or grain.

Many cultures have evidence of early rice cultivation, including China, India, and the civilizations of Southeast Asia. However, the earliest archaeological evidence comes from central and eastern China and dates to 7000–5000 bce. With the exception of the type called upland rice, the plant is grown on submerged land in the coastal plains, tidal deltas, and river basins of tropical, semitropical, and temperate regions. The seeds are sown in prepared beds, and when the seedlings are 25 to 50 days old, they are transplanted to a field, or paddy, that has been enclosed by levees and submerged under 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) of water, remaining submerged during the growing season.

The harvested rice kernel, known as paddy, or rough, rice, is enclosed by the hull, or husk. Milling usually removes both the hull and bran layers of the kernel, and a coating of glucose and talc is sometimes applied to give the kernel a glossy finish. Rice that is processed to remove only the husks, called brown rice, contains about 8 percent protein and small amounts of fats and is a source of thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, iron, and calcium. Rice that is milled to remove the bran as well is called white rice and is greatly diminished in nutrients. When white rice forms a major portion of the diet, there is a risk of beriberi, a disease resulting from a deficiency of thiamine and minerals. Parboiled white rice is processed before milling to retain most of the nutrients, and enriched rice has iron and B vitamins added to it. Rice is cooked by boiling. It is eaten alone and in a great variety of soups, side dishes, and main dishes in Oriental, Middle Eastern, and many other cuisines.

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The by-products of milling, including bran and rice polish (finely powdered bran and starch resulting from polishing), are used as livestock feed. Oil is processed from the bran for both food and industrial uses. Broken rice is used in brewing, distilling, and in the manufacture of starch and rice flour. Hulls are used for fuel, packing material, industrial grinding, fertilizer manufacture, and in the manufacture of an industrial chemical called furfural. The straw is used for feed, livestock bedding, roof thatching, mats, garments, packing material, and broomstraws.

In the 1960s, the so-called Green Revolution, an international scientific effort to diminish the threat of world hunger, produced improved strains of numerous food crops, including that known as miracle rice. Bred for disease resistance and increased productivity, this variety is characterized by a short, sturdy stalk that minimizes loss from drooping. Poor soil conditions and other factors, however, inhibited its anticipated widespread success.

Piedmont: rice productionOverview of rice production in the Piedmont region of Italy.Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, MainzSee all videos for this article

The principal rice-producing countries are China, India, Japan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma). Other important producers are Vietnam, Brazil, South Korea, the Philippines, and the United States. In the late 20th century the world rice crop averaged between 800 billion and 950 billion pounds annually and was cultivated on an average of about 358 million acres (145 million hectares). See also wild rice.

About California Rice

Commercial rice production began in California in 1912. Rice is grown on approximately 550,000 acres statewide. Rice production is concentrated in the Sacramento Valley, where about 95% of California rice is grown, with the balance grown in a few counties of the northern San Joaquin Valley. California rice production yields may exceed 10,000 lbs/acre, which is 20% above the U.S. average. Over 90% of the rice acreage in California is planted to medium grain varieties, with limited area planted to short and long grain varieties.

California is unique among the U.S. rice producing states in its geography, climate and environmental regulations. The growing season is characterized by a Mediterranean climate with negligible rainfall, high solar radiation, and relatively cold night-time temperatures. Because of its dry Mediterranean climate and northern latitude of 38–40°, California varieties and many of the agronomic practices are quite different from other rice production zones in the U.S. Additionally, California’s urbanized population demands that rice (and other crops) be produced with environmentally benign methods with no off-farm impacts. There is frequently conjunctive use of farmland for wildlife habitat and other purposes.

Summary of the annual growing cycle for rice in California

(Click or tap image to see in larger size)

Learn about RICE GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT

Howis rice grown?

Rice processing

Rice mill

Australian rice mills use some of the most advanced equipment and are some of the largest and most efficient in the world.

When the storage manager receives orders and shipping instructions, the rice is trucked to one of three industry mills that are strategically located throughout the region. The industry also has three stockfeed manufacturing plants and 21 rice receival depots.

Milling Rice steps

Step one – Removal of hard protective husk.

The rice husk is the protective layer surrounding the grain. Once removed, the rice grain is packaged as brown rice. Because it still contains the rice germ and outer bran layers, Brown Rice contains more fibre and vitamins thanWhite Rice.

Step two – Removal of the germ and brown layers

Gentle milling removes the germ and bran layers from the grain to expose a white starch centre. The polished white starch centre is what we know as white rice.

Rice by-products

By–products from the growing and processing of rice create many valuable new products. Rice husks, rice stubble, rice bran, broken rice and rice straw are used as common ingredients in horticultural, livestock, industrial, household, building and food products.

Rice husks

The rice husk is the hard, protective shell on the grain. The removal of the rice husk is the first stage of rice milling. Rice husks are the main by-product of rice production. For every one million tonnes of paddy rice harvested, about 200 000 tonnes of rice husk is produced. Rice husks are used in 3 main ways.

  • raw – animal bedding, growing seedlings, improving mulch for gardens.
  • burnt – the resulting ash is valuable for many industries, including steel making, gardening and building.
  • ground and processed – is used in stock feed, potting mixes and pet litter.

Rice stubble

Rice stubble is the stalks and roots of the rice plant left in the ground after it has been harvested.

Rice stubble is very thick and difficult to deal with. Livestock graze on recently harvested paddocks and eat some of the rice stubble. A portion of the remaining stubble is usually burnt off and a winter cereal crop, such as wheat, is planted. On some rice farms, rice stubble is left to break down naturally and is incorporated into the soil, to improve the soil structure.

Rice bran

Rice bran is the outer layer of the brown rice grain. The rice bran is removed during the milling process if white rice is to be produced.

Stabilised rice bran is sold as a health food in supermarkets and health food shops, or to food manufacturers who use it as an ingredient in foods such as crispbreads and breakfast cereals.

Unstabilised rice bran can be used in stockfeed and for other animal and industrial products.

Broken rice grains

Unfortunately, during the rice milling process some of the rice grains break. Most of these broken grains are removed from the milling process. The larger broken rice grains are used in pet foods and stock feed, or breakfast cereals. The smaller broken rice grains are ground into rice flour which can be used in baby foods, snack foods, including rice crackers, muesli bars, or as a baking ingredient. Ground broken rice grains are also used in manufactured foods, such as sausages and milk powder drinks.

Rice straw

Rice straw is the stalks left over after the grains of rice have all been removed in the milling process. Rice straw is used as a building material because it is easy to work with, inexpensive and good for the environment. Some dairy farmers use rice straw as fibre for grain–fed stock. It can also be used to make paper.

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How Rice Grows

Field Preparation

In March, farmers begin to prepare their fields for planting. First, fields are carefully leveled with precision, GPS or laser-guided grading equipment. Level fields allow rice farmers to conserve water. Fertilizer is then added, and shallow furrows are rolled into the field. By April, the fields are ready to be planted.

Flooding and Seeding

Water is run into the fields to a depth of only 5 inches. Consistent water depth has been shown to improve the rice plants’ ability to compete against weeds for nutrients and sunlight, reducing the need for herbicides. Rice seed is then soaked and loaded into planes.

Flying at 100 mph, planes plant the fields from the air. The heavy seeds sink into the furrows and begin to grow.

Maturation of Rice

The rice seedlings are now ready to begin their four to five-month journey to maturity. Early in the growing cycle, one to two applications of herbicides are applied to control weeds. If necessary, farmers may also treat the fields for the rice water weevil and other insects. Early application of just a few crop protection materials ensures pure rice at harvest.

The rice grows rapidly, ultimately reaching a height of 3 feet. During this time, farmers are careful to maintain a consistent water depth of the same 5 inches. By late summer, the grain begins to appear in long panicles on the top of the plant. By September, the grain heads are mature and ready to be harvested. On average, each acre will yield over 8,000 pounds of rice!

Before rice harvest can begin, the fields must be drained. Once the fields are dry, state-of-the-art harvesters enter the fields to collect the perfectly ripe grain. Because quality is so important, these harvesters are designed to both gently and rapidly bring the grain in from the fields. Specialized tractors called bankout wagons come alongside, receiving the rice and delivering it to waiting trailers so the harvesters can continue without having to stop to unload.

Milling & Storage

Next, the rice is carefully dried to an ideal moisture level and stored until the customer places an order. At the mill, the hull is first removed, leaving brown rice. White rice is the result of gently removing the bran layers to leave just the inner, pearly grain. Rice mills in California are among the most advanced in the world, with specialized equipment to mill, sort and package rice to meet the highest quality standards.

How is rice grown

Seed quality and selection

Seed is a living product that must be grown, harvested, and processed correctly in order to realize the yield potential of any rice variety. Good quality seed can increase yields by 5-20%. Using good seed leads to lower seeding rates, higher crop emergence, reduced replanting, more uniform plant stands, and more vigorous early crop growth. Vigorous growth in early stages reduces weed problems and increases crop resistance to insect pests and diseases. All of these factors contribute to higher yields and more productive rice farms.

Good seed is pure (of the chosen variety), full and uniform in size, viable (more than 80% germination with good seedling vigor), and free of weed seeds, seed-borne diseases, pathogens, insects, or other matter.

Choosing seed of a suitable variety of rice that suits the environment it will be grown in and ensuring the seed choosen of that variety is of the highest possible quality is the essential first step in rice production.

Land preparation

Before rice can be planted, the soil should be in the best physical condition for crop growth and the soil surface is level. Land preparation involves plowing and harrowing to ‘till’ or dig-up, mix and level the soil.

Tillage allows the seeds to be planted at the right depth, and also helps with weed control. Farmers can till the land themselves using hoes and other equipment or they can be assisted by draft animals, such as buffalo, or tractors and other machinery.

Next, the land is leveled to reduce the amount of water wasted by uneven pockets of too-deep water or exposed soil. Effective land leveling allows the seedlings to become established more easily, reduces the amount of effort required to manage the crop, and increases both grain quality and yields.

Crop establishment

The two main practices of establishing rice plants are transplanting and direct seeding.

Transplanting is the most popular plant establishment technique across Asia. Pre- germinated seedlings are transferred from a seedbed to the wet field. It requires less seed and is an effective method to control weeds, but requires more labor. Seedlings may be transplanted by either machine or hand.

Direct seeding involves broadcasting dry seed or pre-germinated seeds and seedlings by hand or planting them by machine. In rainfed and deepwater ecosystems, dry seed is manually broadcast onto the soil surface and then incorporated either by ploughing or by harrowing while the soil is still dry. In irrigated areas, seed is normally pre- germinated prior to broadcasting.

Water use and management

Cultivated rice is extremely sensitive to water shortages. To ensure sufficient water, most rice farmers aim to maintain flooded conditions in their field. This is especially true for lowland rice. Good water management in lowland rice focuses on practices that conserve water while ensuring sufficient water for the crop.

In rainfed environments when optimal amounts of water may not be available for rice production, a suite of options are available to help farmers cope with different degrees and forms of water scarcity. It includes sound land preparation and pre-planting activities followed by techniques such as saturated soil culture, alternate wetting and drying, raised beds, mulching, and use of aerobic rice that can cope with dryer conditions.

Nutrient management

At each growth stage, the rice plant has specific nutrient needs. This makes nutrient management a critical aspect of rice farming.

The unique properties of flooded soils make rice different from any other crop. Because of prolonged flooding in rice fields, farmers are able to conserve soil organic matter and also receive free input of nitrogen from biological sources, which means they need little or no nitrogen fertilizer to retain yields. However, farmers can tailor nutrient management to the specific conditions of their field to increase yields.

Crop health

The rice plant has a wide array of ‘enemies’ in the field. These include rodents, harmful insects, viruses, diseases, and weeds. Farmers manage weeds through water management and land preparation, by hand weeding, and in some cases herbcide application. Understanding the interactions among pests, natural enemies, host plants, other organisms, and the environment allows farmers to determine what if any pest management may be necessary.

Avoiding conditions that allow pests to adapt and thrive in a particular ecosystem helps to identify weak links in the pests’ life cycle and therefore what factors can be manipulated to manage them. Retaining natural ecosystems such that predators and natural enemies of pests and diseases are kept in abundance can also help keep pest numbers down.

Harvest

Harvesting is the process of collecting the mature rice crop from the field. Depending on the variety, a rice crop usually reaches maturity at around 105–150 days after crop establishment. Harvesting activities include cutting, stacking, handling, threshing, cleaning, and hauling. Good harvesting methods help maximize grain yield and minimize grain damage and deterioration.

Harvesting can be done manually or mechanically:

Manual harvesting is common across Asia It involves cutting the rice crop with simple hand tools like sickles and knives. Manual harvesting is very effective when a crop has lodged or fallen over, however it is labor intensive. Manual harvesting requires 40 to 80 hours per hectare and it takes additional labor to manually collect and haul the harvested crop.

Mechanical harvesting using reapers or combine harvesters is the other option, but not so common due to the availability and cost of machinery. Following cutting the rice must be threshed to separate the grain from the stalk and cleaned. These processes can also be done by hand or machine.

For detailed information on the step-by-step production of rice, go to the Rice Knowledge Bank.

& JAPAN RICE

Looking at the kanji character that means “rice,” we can see it is composed of two smaller characters—“eight” and “eight.” These graphics mean that complicated operations and a tremendous amount of effort are needed to bring the rice into being. Just as these characters suggest, over the years Japanese farmers have exerted many such efforts, putting their hearts into it. All of these cumulative efforts unfold with the changes of the seasons.
Japanese schools and companies typically start off their new year in April. Spring is a season of beginnings, and the same goes for the new beginnings of rice. Rice planting happens in the spring, cultivation in the summer, and harvest in the fall. The Japanese style of rice-growing adjusts its repertoire of operations according to the flux of the seasons. Because Japan has an abundant amount of rain, most rice is grown through the process of wet cultivation. Here’s how a farmer’s typical four-season cycle plays out over the course of a year.
The rice cycle starts around the time the long winter is over, when the cherry blossoms start to turn reddish. Just at the break of March, farmers start to “wake up” the fields. To produce top-quality rice, it is necessary to have top-quality soil. They till the soil and layer in straw to loosen up the soil and make it easy for water to percolate in. To get strong plants, you need to grow strong seedlings. In spring, farmers tend to their seedlings. They take unhulled grains of “seed rice” from last year’s harvest and sow them in water until they sprout. While this is happening, they also conduct the minute work of disinfecting and drying the paddy, and fertilizer is applied after the seedlings sprout and reach a certain size.
Finally, it’s time to prep the fields for planting. Water is added, fertilizer applied, and the ground is graded into a smooth surface. It’s important to keep the water at a consistent depth so the seedlings can be planted at the same level. When the summer sun starts to make itself felt, farmers pick a still, warm day and plant the 4-5-inch seedlings in the field. In the past, farmers did this by hand, planting each stalk one by one, but today it’s general practice to use a rice-planting machine. The planted seedlings then take root, and new stems grow out from the buds near the root and the rice head emerges from the buds of the stem. And eventually, the bud of a flower is created in the ear of rice.

Growing Rice

Types of Rice

Rice originated in dry areas, and over the years it has adapted to differing ecosystems.

Paddy or irrigated rice. Paddy rice grows where the farmer is able to control the water, pumping it in and out as needed over the growing season. Usually levees or berms (mounds of soil) are built around the growing area, which is kept flooded.

Deep-water rice. This type grows near rivers and other bodies of water. The farmer takes advantage of the natural rising and falling water levels but has no control over them. The rice must be able to tolerate periods of drought as well as flood.

Rain-fed lowland rice. In monsoonal regions, lowland farmers build levees around their fields to capture and hold the rain.

Upland rice. Upland rice will grow without flooding as long as the soil is kept moist. Typically, it is planted in areas with frequent rains. It may be grown in low-lying areas, on slopes, and even in drought-prone regions where irrigation water is readily available. Upland rice will be the best type for most people’s backyard crop.

In addition to ecological types of rice, there are varieties that have a long, medium or short grain, and ones with different textures and flavors, including sweet (also called glutinous), aromatic and arborio rices. You can use any of these types pretty much interchangeably in recipes, but you may be surprised at the differences in taste and texture among them.

Long-grain. Kernels of long-grain rice are long and slender, four or five times longer than wide. When cooked, they’re light and fluffy, and remain separate from each other. Long-grain rice tends to be a little drier than the others.

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Medium-grain. Rice with medium grains is short and fat, two or three times longer than wide. They have the flavor of short-grained rice and the texture of the long-grained. Medium-grain rice cooks up moist, tender and slightly sticky with a creamy consistency.

Short-grain. Short-grain rice is nearly round and cooks into soft, sticky grains. The flavor of short grain rice is somewhat more sweet and pronounced than that of long-grain rice. This is the rice to use when making sushi.

Sweet. Sometimes called sticky rice, sweet rice is gooey when cooked. It’s often used in frozen products.

Aromatic. Aromatic rices have more flavor and fragrance than regular rice. Among the aromatic rices are:

  • Basmati, a long-grain rice
  • Jasmine, qualities similar to medium-grain rice — soft, moist and clingy
  • Red, deep red bran, savory flavor, and slightly chewy when cooked
  • Black japonica, black bran and sweet, spicy flavor

Arborio. A large, medium-grain rice, arborio becomes creamy with a chewy center after cooking. It’s used primarily for risotto and other Italian dishes.

Growing Rice

To grow rice, your garden must be in full sun and offer a three- to six-month growing season with average temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, water-retentive soil, a reliable source of water for irrigation, and a way to drain the water when you’re ready to harvest.

A level spot where water naturally stands after a rain is ideal. If your yard doesn’t have such a spot and the soil is well-drained, mixing copious amounts of organic matter, which holds moisture, into the soil combined with frequent watering will help.

It’s not necessary to keep the area flooded — just wet. (Some references suggest that flooding is used mainly to control weeds and to supply to the roots the nutrients dissolved in the water.)

Steady warm temperatures are almost more important than water supply. Rice is native to tropical and semitropical climates. Fluctuating temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit can reduce the plants’ ability to resist disease. Night temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit stunt their growth.

PREPARING THE PLOT

It will be easier to flood several small areas than one large one, so prepare several seed beds around the yard. Till or spade the beds, concentrating on getting rid of weeds, leveling the soil, and working in plenty of organic matter. Level ground ensures that if you decide to flood, the water depth will be the same over the entire bed.

You can prepare the soil in either fall or early spring. If you do so in fall, lightly go over it again in spring to hit any new weed growth. It’s especially important to eliminate weeds, to remove competition for nutrients.

Plant the rice in rows rather than in blocks so you can easily get in to weed. One approach is to dig trenches several inches apart, blocking or damming them at each end if you plan to flood the rows. The Japanese once used a similar technique, growing rice in the troughs and barley on the ridges. You could also build berms around the planting area to hold in water. Again, it’s not necessary to flood the growing area; just keep the soil wet.

PLANTING

The traditional planting method is to sow rice in a nursery bed, then move the seedlings to the garden after a month of growth.

In recent years, though, farmers have begun seeding directly into the planting bed.

The advantage of direct seeding is that you handle everything just once. Yields are larger because the plants don’t have to go through transplant shock, and it takes less seed to sow the bed. The advantage to nursery beds is that the beds’ smaller size makes it easier to keep weeds under control during the critical periods when seeds are germinating and seedlings are just getting started.

If your growing season is short, you can get a head start by sowing seeds indoors in flats under lights. Whatever method you use, wait until soil and air temperatures are in the neighborhood of 75 degrees Fahrenheit to plant outdoors.

You’ll need 1 to 2 ounces of seed per 100 square feet. Use the lesser amount if you’re direct sowing the seed and the greater amount when transplanting. Before you plant, prime the seed by soaking it in water for 12 to 36 hours.

Sow the primed seed in the garden, carefully tamping it down to ensure good contact with the soil. Cover with mulch. Water frequently and gently to keep soil moist. Young shoots should begin to appear in about a week. Thin the seedlings to 3 to 4 inches apart in rows 9 to 12 inches apart when they are 5 to 7 inches tall.

Transplanting. If you sowed the rice in a nursery bed, let the seedlings grow for about a month, or until they reach a height of 5 to 7 inches. Before transplanting them, thoroughly water the planting bed until it’s muddy. Gently pull up the seedlings and immediately transplant them, pushing them into the mud in rows about a foot apart.

Rice is sometimes transplanted in bunches with two or three seedlings in a “hill” and hills about 5 inches apart in the row. There are no rules, however; all you really need to do is give the plants enough space to grow fully and provide access for you to get in to weed.

Flooding. If you decided to try growing rice submerged in paddies, begin flooding the area when the seedlings are obviously up and growing or transplants have settled in. Commercial operations keep the rice continuously submerged under 8 inches of water, and as plants grow they increase the water level. At home you can flood the area with as little as 1 inch of water.

To help hold in the water, build 2- to 6-inch-tall berms around the planting area. Lining the sides of the berms with plastic sheets will help prevent water from seeping out of the sides.

When the plants are about 15 inches tall, drain the paddy to cultivate, then flood it again. Some rice gardeners recommend draining the paddy each night and flooding it again in the morning to discourage mosquitoes and to give plants access to sunlight and oxygen.

How long the rice should be flooded and how long it should be drained depends on soil conditions and weather. Experiment with adding more or less water and try to judge how the plants are responding.

Irrigated beds. If you don’t flood, water as often as necessary to keep the soil in the planting bed wet. Some ways to keep soil wet without breaking your budget are setting up a mister system and using a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose that runs continuously. Applying a deep layer of mulch after seedlings are up will help hold in soil moisture as well as keep weeds under control. Weed regularly so the rice plants don’t have to compete for nutrients.

Growing Rice in Buckets

If all you have is a sunny patio, you can still grow rice — in buckets. Granted, you won’t reap a huge harvest, but it’s a good activity to do with children and, if you choose an ornamental variety (like the purple-leaved cultivar ‘Red Dragon’) and an attractive container, it can even be decorative.

You will need one or more plastic buckets or other containers that have no drainage holes, water-retentive potting mix, and rice seeds that you have soaked for at least 12 hours.

Fill a bucket with a 4- to 6-inch-deep layer of potting soil. Submerge the soil in 4 to 6 inches of water. Sprinkle the seeds on the water; they’ll sink to the bottom.

Move the bucket to a warm, sunny spot. Top off the water as often as necessary.

After three to four months, when the rice begins to nod, drain the water. Let the rice continue to ripen. In two weeks, or when the heads are golden, harvest the rice by cutting just under the heads.

Bake the heads at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. After they’ve cooled, rub them to release the kernels from the hulls. Winnow, and the rice is ready to cook.

Reprinted with permission from Homegrown Whole Grains, published by Storey Publishing, LLC., August 2009.

Where is rice grown?

Rice-growing environments

Rice grows in a wide range of environments and is productive in many situations where other crops would fail. Most classifications of rice environments are based on altitude (upland vs. lowland) and water source (irrigated or rainfed).

Irrigated rice environments

Worldwide, about 80 million hectares of irrigated lowland rice provide 75% of the world’s rice production. These systems remain the most important rice production systems for food security, particularly in Asian countries. Irrigated rice is grown in bunded fields or paddies, which are surrounded by a small embankment that keeps the water in. Water supply is more assured and one or more crops a year can be grown. Farmers generally try to maintain 5–10 centimeters (cm) of water (‘floodwater’) on the field. By and large, irrigated rice farms are small, with the majority in the 0.5 to 2 hectare range. In many humid tropical and subtropical areas, irrigated rice is grown continuously with two or even three crops a year. This practice of growing rice after rice is centuries old and has been shown to be one of the most sustainable agricultural systems in the world because of the unique nutrient cycling that occurs in flooded rice fields.

Significant areas of irrigated rice are also grown in rotation with a range of other crops, including about 20 million hectares of rice-wheat systems. Irrigated rice receives about 40% of the world’s irrigation water and 30% of the world’s developed freshwater resources. The productivity of rice is typically higher when irrigated, with average irrigated yields about 5.4 t/ha. In temperate climatic regions, a single irrigated rice crop is grown per year, with high yield that can reach 8–10 t/ha or more.

Rainfed lowland environments

Rainfed lowland rice is grown in river deltas and coastal areas, using bunded fields that are flooded with rainwater for at least part of the cropping season. About 60 million hectares of rainfed lowlands supply about 20% of the world’s rice production. Rainfed rice environments experience many abiotic stresses, such as salinity, and high uncertainty in timing, duration, and intensity of rainfall. Some 27 million hectares of rainfed rice are frequently affected by drought. Up to 20 million hectares may experience uncontrolled flooding, ranging from flash floods of relatively short duration to deepwater areas that may be submerged under more than 100 cm of water for a few months. Salinity is widespread in coastal areas.

Rainfed lowland rice predominates in areas of greatest poverty: South Asia, parts of Southeast Asia, and essentially all of Africa. Because the environments are so difficult and yields so unreliable, farmers rarely apply fertilizer and tend to not grow improved varieties. Productivity in rainfed lowland areas is typically very low, with yields of 1–2.5 t/ha. Rice farming families in these areas often remain trapped in poverty.

Rainfed upland environments

Nearly 100 million people depend on the production of rice from rainfed upland regions to provide them with rice to eat as their daily staple food. Almost two-thirds of the world’s total upland rice area is in Asia. Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam are important producers. Rainfed upland rice covers about 14 million hectares but, because of many constraints, the productivity from these areas is typically low with yields of about 1 t/ha. Upland rice contributes only about 4% of the world’s total rice production.

Rainfed upland rice is grown much like wheat or maize, in mixed farming systems without irrigation and without puddling. The ecosystem is extremely diverse, including fields that are level, gently rolling or steep, at altitudes up to 2,000 meters and with rainfall ranging from 1,000 to 4,500 mm annually. Soils range from highly fertile to highly weathered, infertile and acidic, but only 15 percent of total upland rice grows where soils are fertile and the growing season is long.

Upland environments are highly heterogeneous, with climates ranging from humid to subhumid, soils from relatively fertile to highly infertile, and topography from flat to steeply sloping. With low population density and limited market access, shifting cultivation with long (more than 15 years) fallow periods was historically the dominant land-use system. Some 70% of Asia’s upland rice areas have made the transition to permanent systems where rice is grown every year and is closely integrated with other crops and livestock.

Many upland farmers plant local rice varieties that do not respond well to improved management practices – but these are well adapted to their environments and produce grains that meet local needs.

Although the rice technology of the 1960s and 70s focused on irrigated rice, farmers in the uplands were not forgotten. Researchers produced cultivars adapted to poor soils, and with improved blast resistance and drought tolerance. Some have outyielded traditional varieties by more than 100 percent in evaluations. Scientists at national agricultural research systems have crossed these improved rices with local cultivars and farmers are now beginning to grow the progeny. But more improvements are needed to meet the new challenges.

In Central and West Africa, the rice belt of Africa, upland areas represent about 40% of the area under rice cultivation and employ about 70% of the region’s rice farmers. As market access remains limited, most of the world’s upland rice farmers tend to be self-sufficient by producing a range of agricultural outputs. Poverty is widespread in these upland areas.

Where Is Rice Grown?

California


California ranks as the second-largest rice-growing state in the U.S. The majority of rice is grown in the Sacramento Valley, where hot days and cool nights—along with clay soil that holds on to virtually every drop of moisture—create the perfect conditions for growing California’s distinctive japonica rice. The sticky, moist characteristics of japonica varieties make them ideal for Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. In fact, California rice is highly prized all over the world—particularly in Asia and portions of the Middle East.

History

The roots of the California rice industry were planted deeply in dreams—dreams of gold, to be exact. The lure of precious metal drew adventurous spirits from around the world, including many Chinese immigrants. As dreams turned into hard reality, many Chinese immigrants became part of the labor force on railroads and gold fields; the high cost of feeding them with rice (a staple of their diet) became difficult. During the Gold Rush era, the huge and hungry state had to import most of its food. Farmers who came to seek their fortune in gold realized they might find more success doing what they did back home—growing crops. After decades of trial and error, farmers in Butte County were the first to discover that they had the perfect climate and soil for growing rice. Commercial production began in 1912.

Economy

California rice is grown on approximately 500,000 acres, with the annual crop valued at approximately $780 million. The industry contributes half a billion dollars every year to the state’s economy. It is the foundation for highly skilled, living wage jobs in California and, through exports, all over the world.

Environment

California ricelands provide critical habitat for hundreds of species as the only crop in the state that replicates the once-abundant wetlands. Ducks, geese and shorebirds by the millions nest, feed and rear their young in the state’s rice fields. Most recently, the well-respected Manomet center for conservation sciences designated California ricelands as a Shorebird Habitat of International Significance.

Texas


The upper Texas coast is home to most of the state’s rice production and milling industry. The Texas Rice Belt plays an important environmental, as well as agricultural, role in the coastal prairie. Texas produces mostly long grain rice, which cooks up as separate, fluffy grains. Versatile long grain rice is often used for recipes requiring rice grains with a distinct shape and texture.

Rice was first cultivated in Texas primarily for home or local consumption, using pioneer farming methods. Oxen were used to plow small plots, which were planted by hand. The crop depended on rainfall. Commercial production began in earnest in the 1880s—helped along by the railroad, affordable land, immigration from Louisiana and other grain-producing areas and the introduction of modern rice milling. A significant event occurred in 1904, when seed rice from Japan was introduced. The Houston Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Pacific Railroad invited Japanese farmers to Texas to advise local rice producers. The Japanese farmers arrived with seed, a gift from the emperor of Japan. This event was a turning point in the establishment of the Texas rice industry.

Due to water availability issues, Texas has seen a decrease in rice acres in recent years and now produces about 140,000 acres. Rice production and processing both play important roles, contributing more than $140 million to the state’s economy each year and accounting for thousands of real wage jobs in the state.

Rice production is unique in its ability to supplement wildlife habitats. Winter-flooded rice fields cover vital fresh water wetland functions in the Upper Texas Gulf Coast ecosystem. Texas rice fields offer forage and roosting habitats for resident, wintering and migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, as well as other wetland-dependent wildlife species.

Missouri


Southeast Missouri’s Bootheel region is home to the state’s rice industry, producing mainly long grain rice. The “Show Me” state has a proud agricultural tradition. In fact, the statue adorning the dome of the State capitol—often mistaken for Lady Liberty—is that of Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture.

George Begley, Jr. first began growing rice in 1910, just north of Dudley in western Stoddard County. Most of the earliest Missouri rice was grown by Arkansas rice farmers who moved to the newly drained and cleared lands in Butler and Ripley counties. Lacking herbicides to control grass weeds and red rice, they cleared new land continuously, and the state’s first rice growers were timber cutters through the late winter months. From the 1950s through 1973, Missouri’s total allotted rice acreage varied from 3,000 to 6,000 acres. After allotments were lifted in 1973, that acreage increased immediately to 14,000, and today that acreage has grown to 150,000.

Missouri rice producers plant approximately 150,000 acres of rice each year. The annual rice crop contributes more than $150 million to the state’s economy.

Southern Missouri lies at the bottleneck of the Mississippi Flyway, and flooded rice fields here help to provide an essential stopping point for migrating and wintering waterfowl and other wildlife. Readily available irrigation water, suitable topography and soils, favorable climate and proximity to the Mississippi River all favor the production of rice. Judging by soil types and water availability, the potential exists for more than twice the state’s current rice acreage.

Arkansas

If you wish to look deep into the heart of the rice industry, look south. Arkansas ranks first among rice-producing states, accounting for more than 40% of U.S. rice production—primarily long and medium grain varieties. Rice production is concentrated in the eastern half of the state, stretching from the Louisiana to the Missouri borders. Arkansas rice is known for its versatility, used in a wide variety of cuisines. It is enjoyed in the United States and throughout the world.

Growers in the prairie lands of Arkansas were in need of a dependable, profitable crop. Rice became a contender almost by accident, when W. H. Fuller ventured southwest to Louisiana in August of 1896 on a hunting trip. It was there he first saw rice growing, which ultimately led to the development of a leading agricultural industry for the state. Fuller, along with his brother-in-law John Morris and John’s wife Emma, are generally credited with founding the Arkansas rice industry. By 1910, rice production, research and milling were established in the state. Today the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie in Stuttgart showcases the history of this major center for U.S. rice production.

Arkansas grows rice on approximately 1.2 million acres each year. Rice production and processing play important roles in the state. Rice is the state’s second-highest-value commodity and its top agricultural export. The annual rice crop contributes an estimated $1.3 billion to the state’s economy and accounts for approximately 20,000 jobs, crucial to rural communities.

The managed rice fields and natural wetlands of Arkansas provide the most important wintering area for North America’s mallards. During the winter months, rice farmers capture rain water in rice fields to create vital resting and foraging habitats for migratory and wintering waterfowl. Winter flooding of rice fields also helps to naturally prevent erosion, control weeds and protect soil nutrients.

Louisiana

Louisiana’s cuisine is world famous—due in no small part to its rice! Louisiana is one of the nation’s top three rice-producing states, growing mostly long grain rice. While southwestern Louisiana is the primary center for rice production and milling, rice is also grown in the northeastern part of the state.

Rice traveled south from the Carolinas to Louisiana with Acadian settlers. Louisiana rice was originally grown for home consumption by utilizing areas that couldn’t be plowed. Farmers tossed rice seeds into wetlands near bayous and ponds. What rice grew from this casual method was deemed “providence rice” by its thankful harvesters. Commercial rice production began in earnest in the second half of the 19th century, helped along by the railroad which transported the crop to New Orleans. Crowley has hosted the International Rice Festival since 1936; today, the event draws more than 150,000 visitors from around the world.

Louisiana grows rice on approximately 400,000 acres each year, and the annual crop is valued around $360 million. Rice production and processing both play important roles in the state, generating annual economic activity of almost $200 million and accounting for thousands of jobs. Rice is the state’s top agricultural export.

Louisiana’s rice farmers combine the best of rice farming practices with environmental stewardship. In winter, water can be held on rice fields and provide vital resting areas and a food resource for migrating waterfowl. Rice fields also support other wetland-dependent wildlife species.

Mississippi

Rice production is concentrated in the northwestern area of the state. Mississippi rice producers grow long grain rice, which is versatile and widely used.

Rex L. Kimbriel, originally a cotton farmer, is credited with launching the commercial rice industry in Mississippi in the late 1940s. By 1953, Mississippi farmers were planting 70,000 acres and producing more than 1.8 million hundredweight of rice. Production practices common to Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas has to be adapted for Mississippi growing conditions. Research at the Delta Branch Experiment Station led to the development of optimal varieties and practices for the rice production in Mississippi. By the mid-1970s, Mississippi rice production was expanding rapidly.

Agriculture is Mississippi’s number-one industry. The economic activity generated by Mississippi rice production is vital to rural communities and to the state as a whole. Mississippi rice producers plant approximately 130,000 acres of rice each year. The annual rice crop contributes more than $130 million to the state’s economy and accounts for thousands of jobs, both on and off the farm. Rice also ranks as one of the state’s top five agricultural exports.

Mississippi’s rice crop is harvested in the fall. The winter flooding of the harvested rice fields provides excellent feeding and resting habitats for waterfowl. In the Delta, flooded rice fields serve the essential needs of migratory birds following the Mississippi Flyway.

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1. Temperature:

Rice is a tropical crop and grown where the average temperature during the growing season is between 20°C and 27°C.

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Abundant sunshine is essential during its four months of growth. The minimum temperature should not go below 15°C as germination cannot take place below that temperature.

2. Rainfall:

Paddy requires more water than any other crop. As a result, paddy cultivation is done only in those areas where minimum rainfall is 115 cm. Although the regions are having average annual rainfall between 175—300 cm are the most suitable.

Paddy also needs flooded conditions with the depth of water varying over 25 mm at the time of transplanting to as much as 150 mm for 10 weeks of the growing period.

3. Soils:

Paddy is grown in wide range of soil, from the podzolic alluvium of China to the impermeable heavy clay of central Thailand. Fertile riverine alluvial soil is best for rice cultivation.

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Clayey loam soil in monsoon land is considered to be the best for rice cultivation as water retention capacity of this soil is very high. Rice is also grown in saline areas of deltic region. Rice cultivation needs high fertilizer appli­cation.

4. Surface:

Unlike other crops, paddy needs a level surface to enable the fields to be flooded at least during the growing period. It’s ideal habitat is therefore in the great alluvial deltas and river basins of the world: the Ganges, Siking, Yangtzekiang, Irrawaddy, Menam Chao Phraya and Mekong, where there is practically no gradient.

5. Fertilizers:

Paddy requires three essential plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Most paddy lands have a moderate quantity of such nutrients, but if they are deficient, organic manure or artificial fertilizers have to be used.

6. Labour:

Paddy cultivation is extremely labour-intensive, therefore, requires more labour in comparison to other cereal crops. Labour is necessary for: preparing the field, weeding, sowing, transplanting, manuring, harvesting, threshing, winnowing and milling. For rice cultivation large number of cheap labour is required.

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