U.S. Rice Sustainability Report

The U.S. rice industry’s commitment to sustainability dates back generations, long before the word “sustainability” became a popular, if difficult to define, term.

The Rice Foundation commissioned this rice industry sustainability report to collect in one place the outstanding accomplishments of the past 36 years across the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) including key environmental resource markers: land use and soil conservation; water use and quality; energy use and air quality; and biodiversity.  View and download the report below, or contact us to request a printed copy.

U.S. Rice Sustainability Report Cover Image

Rice plant

The Greatest Yields

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Nearly 85 percent of the rice consumed in the United States is U.S.-grown on family farms across the six major rice-producing states: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. Rice farmers harvest roughly 20 billion pounds of rice grown on 2.8 million acres of sustainably managed farmland. The rice not consumed domestically—roughly 50 percent of the crop in most years—is exported to more than 120 countries around the globe.

Over the past 36 years, improved sustainability practices have led to increased crop yields while also yielding some of the greatest environmental benefits.

Sunset over a rice field

Land Use & Soil Conservation

2.8 million acres of landRice in the U.S. is grown on close to 3 million acres across six states: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.

U.S. rice farmers respect the land they work. They believe in conservation practices to maintain and improve their land for the next generation. Increasing demands on land use in the United States necessitate the most efficient use of land for any given purpose. In agriculture, efficient land use means producing more crop on less land.

Soil conservation practices such as conservation tillage — in which rice is planted with no or minimal tillage into previous crop residue — protect the soil from erosion and loss of nutrients. Rice farming consistently has the lowest soil erosion on a per-acre basis compared to other crops.  

Water Use & Water Quality

Rice is a water-dependent crop, however looks can be deceiving. Flooded rice fields can often appear to be “small lakes,” when in reality the water is just a few inches deep and serving multiple purposes — like preventing soil erosion, creating wildlife habitat, and naturally controlling weeds. Water use decreased 52 percent

U.S. rice farmers use a variety of practices, like use of precision technology to track water use and weather conditions, to improve efficiency and reduce overall water use, but it is worth pointing out that not every technique will work on every farm. There are many variables that come into play, but with a commitment to research and continuous improvement, rice farmers continue to lead the way for agriculture.

Field runoff that contains excess sediments and nutrients can negatively impact water quality. Growing rice is a natural filtration system removing sediments and nutrients thus producing cleaner water when it leaves the field. U.S. rice farmers use the 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship — applying fertilizer at the right source, the right rate, the right time, and in the right place.
Combine unloading harvested rice into a grain cart

Energy Use & Air Quality

Solar panels at grain storage facilityEnergy use decreased 34 percent and greenhouse gas emissions decreased 41 percent

Multiple efficiencies, from more fuel-efficient farm equipment to on-farm advances that reduce the amount of water pumped to flood fields, use more precise fertilizer applications, and require fewer passes on or above the field have helped U.S. rice farmers make great strides in reducing energy use.

At the mill, renewable energy is becoming increasingly common, with enterprising millers working to convert waste — rice hulls — into energy, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past 36 years, rice conservation and innovation has led to improved air quality. This has been achieved through higher yielding varieties, advances in fertilizer application, the reduction of overall energy required to produce rice, and practices such as conservation tillage that reduce CO2 emissions.

Enhancing Biodiversity

the value of habitat provided by overwinter flood rice fields exceeds 3.4 billion dollars More than 50 percent of North America's ducks winter in regions that overlap with all rice lands.
As impressive as rice conservation practices are regarding water, soil, and air, they should also be recognized for improving and enhancing vital wildlife habitats. Working rice lands provide millions of acres of life-sustaining resources for migrating waterbirds along with countless other animals that call the fields their home. Foraging waterbirds give back to the land in a myriad of ways as they search for feedstuffs in the grain residue left after harvest, helping to increase soil nutrients, straw decomposition, reducing weed and insect pressure and providing other important agronomic advantages.

While U.S. rice farmers have proudly provided critical wildlife habitat for waterfowl for decades, conservation efforts leapt forward in 2013 with the formal partnership between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited (DU) in the Rice Stewardship Partnership (RSP). Utilizing matching grant dollars from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and private partners, the RSP provides technical assistance and cost share funding to help farmers implement conservation practices on their farms. Through this unique partnership, public and private resources will be leveraged to positively impact over 700,000 acres of working rice lands by 2023.


Investing in Long-Term Sustainability

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Rice farmers’ commitment to voluntary sustainability practices dates back generations. Practices such as precision water use, conservation tillage, and winter flooding have only improved over time and through advances in technology. The data clearly show the hard work of rice farmers is making significant positive impacts on the environment. Soil is preserved. Water is efficiently used. Air is cleaner. Wildlife habitat is increasing.

Recognizing this success, conservation organizations and corporate partners are investing in the future of long-term rice sustainability through collaborative programs and other supply chain initiatives.

Supporting Economies & Creating Jobs

Sustainability extends beyond environmental resource impacts. To ensure good environmental practices continue, farm operation must be economically sustainable. Rice, an economic powerhouse, improves on-farm profitability, supports and sustains local communities, and significantly contributes to the U.S. economy. In many cases, community life revolves around rice as the main economic resource, supporting entire towns.

The U.S. rice industry contributes in excess of $34 billion to the U.S. economy annually and provides jobs for more than 125,000 individuals in the U.S. On average, each rice farm contributes $1 million to their local economy.

The U.S. rice industry provides critical jobs in rural areas throughout the country. Across the U.S., 5,563 rice farmers directly support 14,642 jobs, generating $1.56 billion in direct labor income. U.S. rice mills supported an annual average employment of 4,819 people and provided over $245 million in wages.48 Average wages for employees on farms and in mills exceed minimum wage in all rice producing states.
Combine harvesting rice
Bowl of brown rice

Producing a Safe & Sustainable Food Supply

U.S. laws and regulations ensure a safe food supply and encourage conservation practices that improve the environment. Rice farmers are expected to comply with all food, labor, and worker safety federal and state laws and regulations. Farmers also adhere to—and often exceed—strict U.S. environmental standards.

“Rice farmers and millers must comply with thousands of pages of federal and state regulations that are strictly enforced. This paired with the industry’s commitment to conservation makes,U.S.-grown rice the most sustainably produced in the world.”

Betsy Ward, President and CEO, USA Rice
White rice on a plate with salmon and broccoli
Rice on a conveyor belt

The Whole Grain

This small, multi-purpose grain packs enormous benefits with a variety of uses. With high consumption rates throughout the world, what happens to the waste created by the hull, bran and germ layers that are removed at the mill? As it turns out, those waste materials aren’t really waste at all.

“We don’t throw anything away here. Everything has a value to someone or to us.”

Mike Martin, Martin Rice Company
Graphic showing parts of the rice grain: hull, bran, endosperm, and germ.
Hands holding rice

Giving Back

With 20 billion pounds of rice grown and harvested by America’s rice farmers, the rice industry has the privilege of giving to address food insecurity, working with local food banks, and supporting foreign aid programs around the world. As pillars of the community, mills and farmers have a long history of giving back to their local communities with more than rice. Farmers and millers are community leaders and provide support to local schools, charity events, churches, youth sports, and other community events.

Anywhere from three to five percent of U.S. rice exports are in the form of food aid, providing a safe and nutritious food for vulnerable or at-risk populations.

40 Million Pounds of Rice Distributed to Local Food Banks