The wait is over. After much hard work and many drafts, the U.S. Rice Industry Sustainability Report is now available to the public on the USA Rice website. It’s an historic document that spans three decades of rice’s commitment to sustainability across six states, and encompasses a vast amount of information and data, centralized for the first time in one place.
Because rice has done so much for sustainability and conservation over the years, it can be a lot to take in all at once; that’s why we’re running a weekly series that focuses on some of the specific accomplishments outlined in the report.
“The great deal of time and effort put into this report by all involved was well worth it,” said Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of The Rice Foundation, who spearheaded the project. “I knew that the rice industry had made great strides in sustainability, but I did not realize the magnitude of those improvements until we began amassing data.”
While the report itself is a study of rice’s past-compiling data from 1980 to 2015-it’s also a look into rice’s future, a call to action to be ever self-improving. In the section titled “Investing in Long-Term Sustainability,” the report showcases how the rice industry has formed strong, lasting partnerships, applying lessons learned over the last 30 years to the continuing mission of sustainability for generations to come-because the very term “sustainable” means that these practices and innovations are not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plays an important role in making sure rice is sustainable in the long run. By investing funds in programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), the NRCS ensures that more farmers have the means, the access, and the support to implement and maintain sustainability practices every year.
CSP provides financial incentives to farmers already using sustainable methods to expand and improve their practices, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) helps farmers with large infrastructure projects that will increase the sustainability of their operation. RCPP allows NRCS to partner with regional organizations and institutions to address critical conservation needs in focused areas.
The Rice Stewardship Partnership (RSP) between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited is another crucial collaboration that secures the future of sustainability in the rice industry. Since 2013, the DU partnership has used grants from the RCPP to accelerate the adoption of conservation practices and help farmers calculate environmental benefits. The partnership is now implementing a total of eight rice-focused regional RCPP projects to last through 2023, bringing more than $80 million to U.S. rice farmers.
The benefit of these partnerships reach far beyond funding. The RSP sets its sights on the future-literally-by focusing on increasing youth participation. As young farmers get into the business, RSP ensures that they have the resources, knowledge, and support to make sustainability a priority for a new generation.
The report also provides something rice farmers have never had before: a comprehensive benchmark to compare future sustainability goals and accomplishments against. One of the tools available to track resource inputs and savings is the Fieldprint Platform designed by Field to Market. Through an online application, Fieldprint allows producers to compare their farm’s performance against eight sustainability indicators, such as land use and greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers can enter their own data and receive analyzed feedback from Fieldprint in return.
But the report isn’t just raw data. It’s full of accounts from real farmers who have taken part in these programs to make their farms more sustainable. Take Timothy and Daniel Gertson, fifth-generation farmers who reduced water usage by up to 40 percent with the help of an EQIP contract by laying irrigation pipeline and precision leveling their land.
“While the research focuses on the most recent 30 years, the story begins much earlier as the report introduces you to the families of these multi-generational farming operations,” said Kevin Norton, acting associate chief of the NRCS. “This, in my mind, is a true test of sustainability. One generation passes along their land, equipment, and values to the next. It’s really a story about the future.”
Including these personal accounts in the report was important to its creators, because while sustainability is our story, it’s really hundreds of stories from farmers, millers, and researchers across the country who are all doing their part to contribute to the larger narrative.
“This report verifies that the U.S. rice industry is a leader among agricultural commodities in sustainability across all sectors,” said Linscombe. “It will make it easier to tell that story.”
Sustainability is a moving target. Technology will advance. Populations will rise. Markets will fluctuate. Politics will be political. As the world evolves, rice’s sustainability tactics must evolve alongside it, and the U.S. Rice Industry Sustainability Report makes it clear that we’re up for the challenge.