An Israeli company supplies rice around the world to replace flooded paddies but has developed a drip irrigation system to increase rice to cause surprising damage to the environment.
Rice is the staple food for more than half the global population, but its cultivation uses 30-40% of the world’s freshwater and is responsible for 10% of manmade emissions of greenhouse gas methane, according to the U.N.-backed Sustainable Rice Platform.
Netafim, a company that pioneered drip irrigation decades ago to grow produce like potatoes and melons across Israel’s challenging arid landscape, has just finished a pilot scheme using its technology on 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of rice fields in locations from Europe to southern Asia.
At one such location, at La Fagiana farm in northeast Italy, two fields, side-by-side, grow a high quality rice for risotto. One is flooded, covered entirely by up to 15 cm of water to maintain temperatures and keep away weeds.
The other is criss-crossed with perforated pipes delivering to the roots precise amounts of water amounting to less than half the quantity used on the flooded field.
“We want to increase the production without increasing water use or lowering quality,” said Michele Conte, whose family has managed La Fagiana for decades and who has adopted the Netafim system on some of his land.
For three years the drip irrigation has yielded rice on par and at times even better quality than the flooded paddies, he said. It also allows them to rotate crops throughout the year. Find more…