How is organic rice produced?
Organic rice production starts with the use of high quality non-GMO seed. This is followed through with an ongoing commitment to improving soil quality while using a range of natural measures to minimize the impact of pests and weeds without resorting to chemical herbicides and pesticides.
- Unlike conventional rice growers, who routinely apply chemical fertilizers to the soil, organic rice farmers use a range of natural measures to maintain and enhance soil fertility.
- This generally involves crop rotation with deep-rooted legume crops or green manure/cover crops.
- Leguminous green-manure crops supply up to 50 percent of the nitrogen needs of high-yielding rice varieties.
- Other measures organic rice farmers use to enhance and maintain soil fertility include encouraging native water fowl to rest during winter months, applying rock minerals, animal manures, composts, and other USDA approved organic amendments.
- Controlling pests and disease is a constant challenge for both conventional and organic rice growers.
- The biggest pest problem facing rice growers are rice water weevils, whose larvae attach to the roots of young plants and severely reduce the root system. Plants with reduced root systems grow poorly and have low yields.
- Another problem is shrimp, which feed on newly germinated rice plants.
- Diseases can also attack both seedlings and mature plants.
- Excessive soil nitrogen levels in conventional rice production often arise due to high quantities of chemical fertilizer being applied to the soil. Unlike organic farming, which does not lead to excessive soil nitrogen levels, this encourages sheath blight, kernel smut, and other diseases.
- Conventional farmers address pest control by routinely applying chemical pesticides to rice crops.
- Timely planting, variety selection, and cultural practices to suppress weeds and encourage dense stands of rice are the main methods used by organic rice farmers to control pests and disease.
- Managing weeds is one of the major challenges associated with organic rice production. Unlike conventional farmers, organic rice farmers do not use chemical herbicides.
- Instead, crop rotations, land leveling, seedbed preparation, water management, and rotary hoeing are the main ways organic rice farmers control weeds.
- Crop rotations are particularly important in organic rice production. Crop rotations reduce weed pressure by interrupting weed life cycles and reducing the number of weed seeds in the soil.
- Field flooding is also used to suppress weeds directly and as a means of giving rice crops an advantage over competing weeds.
- Conventional rice farmers generally sell their production as white rice. They harvest at high moisture (21 to 26 percent moisture), which means the rice is not fully mature. This is done so that the rice does not shatter when polished to white. Sometimes, this less mature rice is sold as brown rice.
- Organic rice farmers often – although not always – sell their production as brown rice.
- Brown rice is not subjected to the white rice polishing process. Instead, it is allowed to mature to full flavor in the field.
- Brown rice is generally harvested at 16 to 18 percent moisture. This produces more mature fully developed rice kernels with a richer, fuller flavor.
- Rice must be dried down to about 14 percent moisture for storage. This is achieved by passing freshly harvested rice across streams of warm air to gradually draw out the moisture.
- While conventional rice storage relies on a range of synthetic chemical controls to ensure its integrity, organic rice storage relies on cleanliness and careful monitoring.
- Organic rice is regularly stirred and aerated with cold air during the cool winter months. Rice bins are routinely checked for temperature, moisture, insect activity, and freshness.
- Organic standards preclude the use of chemical controls in any rice milling, puffing, processing, or warehousing facilities.
- Pest prevention, through the maintenance of meticulously clean facilities is the major means of controlling pests.
- If insects do manage to get in stored grain, rice bins are filled with natural food-grade carbon dioxide (a non-toxic gas people exhale when they breathe) to keep bugs from damaging rice.
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