The future of growing rice in Vermont: Managing for climate change

Final Report for ONE12-154

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,923.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Laura Bermingham
University of Vermont
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Project Information

Summary:

Rice is a staple grain crop that is well suited to our wet Northeast region because it may be better able to withstand changes predicted by regional climate change models, including an increased probability of severe weather events such as flooding and drought. Our goal was to elucidate which rice varieties are best suited to withstand the predicted fluctuations in water availability due to climate change. We tested 4 japonica rice cultivars, 3 from northern Japan (Matsumae, Hayayuki, and Akitakomachi) and 1 from California (M202). We analyzed growth and grain production of these 4 rice varieties in 3 experimental water treatments: flooded soil, saturated soil, and dry soil.

 

Most rice grown in Vermont is Hayayuki, but Matsumae performed better in terms of germination, vigor, and grain yield when the 2 strains are compared quantitatively. Matsumae is best suited for saturated and low water conditions. Hayayuki is best suited for wet conditions, but saturated (not flooded) soils are sufficient for high grain yields. The California strain M-202 is less tolerant of cold temperatures and should be avoided in colder, higher elevation regions of the Northeast but can be grown with success in warmer regions, such as the Champlain Valley. Rice grown in the “saturated” and “control” water treatments were not significantly different from one another in terms of total grain yield, indicating that rice farming in the Northeast need not be as water-intensive as is normally practiced on-farm. Many Northeastern farmers utilize water to flood rice paddies as a method of weed control. However, flooded paddies create anaerobic conditions that release large amounts of methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, therefore exacerbating the effects of climate change. In order to control weed growth in rice paddies in the Northeast in a sustainable manner, we recommend alternative methods of weed suppression such as using cover crops.

Introduction:

There is a major opportunity for growing rice in the Northeast. Rice farming can diversify existing farms, especially dairy farms, and add value to farms by utilizing marginal soils without transitioning prime agricultural land. Rice is a staple grain crop that is well suited to our wet Northeast region, as other grains (e.g., wheat) require drier conditions and are more difficult to grow. Climate change has profound implications for agriculture in the Northeast (Hoffman and Smith, 2011), so farmers must prepare for these future challenges. Rice is a crop that may be better able to withstand changes predicted by regional climate change models, including an increased probability of severe weather events such as flooding and drought.

Project Objectives:

We investigated how a variable water supply affects rice growth and grain yields. Our goal was to elucidate which rice varieties are best suited to withstand the predicted fluctuations in water availability due to climate change. We tested the ability of 4 japonica rice cultivars (Oryza sativa ssp. japonica cv. Matsumae, Hayayuki, Akitakomachi and M202) to grow and produce grain under 3 experimental water levels. Vermont rice farmer Takeshi Akaogi recommended these 4 rice cultivars, and we obtained 5 grams of seed for each cultivar from the USDA Dale Bumpers Research Station in Arkansas. We additionally used some Hayayuki seed saved from previous harvests at Whole Systems Design Research Farm. The first 3 strains are cold-hardy rice developed in northern Japan (Hokkaido and Akita, Japan), and M202 is a California strain. Our experiments were performed in 2 different Vermont climates in partnership with 2 Vermont rice farmers, Ben Falk at Whole Systems Research Farm in Moretown, VT (noted subsequently as “WSRF”) and John Maeck at JM Plants and Produce in Shelburne, VT (noted subsequently as “JM”). The information from this project will inform Northeastern rice farmers which rice varieties will yield the highest amount of grain on their farms based on-farm water availability.

 

We were interested in seeing how rice performed with less water (“saturated” treatment, as described below) and in drought conditions (“low” treatment, as described below) compared to the control, standing water levels that are recommended in the Rice Growing Manual (Akaogi 2009). The water level treatments for all rice plants (i.e., grown in buckets at both farms and paddies at Whole Systems Research Farm) were as follows:

  1. Control – rice was constantly in flooded conditions with the bucket full to the top with water; water covered the base of the plant throughout the growing season in the bucket and paddy (methods recommended in Akaogi 2009)
  2. Saturated – soil was kept constantly saturated with water throughout the growing season, but there were no extended periods of standing water in the bucket or paddy
  3. Low – simulating drought conditions, the soil was watered on an as-needed basis with periods of drying between watering cycles

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ben Falk
  • John Maeck

Research

Materials and methods:

 The water level treatments for all rice plants (i.e., grown in buckets at both farms and paddies at Whole Systems Research Farm) were as follows:

  1. Control – rice was constantly in flooded conditions with the bucket full to the top with water; water covered the base of the plant throughout the growing season in the bucket and paddy (methods recommended in Akaogi 2009)
  2. Saturated – soil was kept constantly saturated with water throughout the growing season, but there were no extended periods of standing water in the bucket or paddy
  3. Low – simulating drought conditions, the soil was watered on an as-needed basis with periods of drying between watering cycles

Research results and discussion:

Germination trials

The seeds were pre-soaked in water between 6 and 8 days (Picture 1) and subsequently sown in a germination soil mix following the protocol in the Rice Growing Manual (Akaogi 2009). At JM in Shelburne, the seed trays were covered and placed in a heated greenhouse. At WSRF in Moretown, the seed trays were covered and placed in unheated cold frames. The seeds took ~7 days to germinate and germination rates varied among different varieties of rice (Figure 1). Matsumae had the highest germination rate at both farms. Over 50% of M202 seeds germinated in heated greenhouses at JM, whereas less than 30% of M202 seeds germinated in cold frames at WSRF. Hayayuki germination rates were quite low at JM (less than 50%) compared to WSRF (90%). Finally, Akitakomachi had the lowest germination rates at both farms. Interestingly, the germination rates were significantly higher at WSRF in Moretown for all but 1 strain (i.e., California strain M202), indicating that cold frames are sufficient for germinating rice varieties from northern Japan and heated greenhouses are unnecessary for successful on-farm rice germination.

 

We measured seedling height for an indirect estimate of seedling vigor for the Shelburne trials. It is important to note that some strains are bred to grow taller than other strains, so seedling height may has a slight bias as an estimate of vigor. Nevertheless, M202 and Hayayuki had the most vigorous seedlings followed by Matsumae, and Akitakomachi exhibited the lowest germination rates and seedling vigor (Figure 2).

Early season (May – June) estimates of plant vigor – WSRF

Early season plant vigor was estimated for plants prior to panicle formation on each farm, WSRF(Zone 4a) and JM (Zone 4b). Rice is a grass that produces tillers (stems) throughout the growing season. Most tillers develop into reproductive panicles, which mature into fruits containing the seeds (grains). We used tiller measurements to assess early growth vigor among rice plants at each farm. We estimated average early-season plant vigor by multiplying total number of tillers by tiller height to yield a representative numeric value for overall plant vigor (Hill Bermingham 2010). We used analysis of variance (ANOVA) statistical tests to assess differences in plant vigor among water treatments and rice varieties. Individual t-tests were used to detect differences between pairs if the ANOVA model was significant.

 

We analyzed differences in early season plant vigor among rice varieties by building an ANOVA model with both rice variety and farm. The entire model detected significant differences in plant vigor (P < 0.0001). Early season plant vigor differed among rice varieties (P = 0.04) and between the 2 farms (P < 0.0001). Rice plants of all varieties at WSRF were significantly more vigorous in the early season compared to JM (Figure 3).

 

Variety

Farm

N (# plants)

Plant vigor (early season)

Akitakomachi

JM

29

91.0

Akitakomachi

WSRF

11

245.7

Hayayuki

JM

104

105.8

Hayayuki

WSRF

114

306.5

M202

JM

56

88.7

M202

WSRF

10

301.8

Matsumae

JM

58

94.7

Matsumae

WSRF

48

422.0

 

The difference in fertilization frequency between the 2 farms most likely drove differences in early season plant performance. Young seedlings at WSRF were fertilized with organic fertilizers, but seedlings were not fertilized at JM. Organic, high-N fertilizers (e.g., duck and chicken manure at WSRF and fish emulsion at JM) were used to fertilize to the plants. Fertilizers were first applied at WSRF when the seedling’s leaves began to yellow, and fertilizer was applied once every 2 weeks or as needed prior to transplant. Given these results, rice seedlings should be fertilized as seedlings prior to transplant into buckets or paddies. It should also be noted that Ben Falk at WSRF has years of experience growing rice, and it was the first year of rice farming at JM in Shelburne.

 

One of the major goals of the project was to determine whether climatic differences between the 2 farms would result in performance differences among rice varieties. JM Plants and Produce is located in the Champlain Valley of Vermont where temperatures tend to be significantly warmer than central Vermont were Whole Systems Research Farm is located in Moretown. At JM, Hayayuki was the most vigorous variety early in the season, followed by Matsumae and M202 (Figure 3). Akitakomachi was the least vigorous variety and differed significantly from all varieties (Akitakomachi – Hayayuki: P = 0.02; Akitakomachi – M202: P = 0.009; Akitakomachi – Matsumae: P = 0.004). On the other hand, Matsumae was the most vigorous variety, followed by Hayayuki, at WSRF. The least vigorous variety at both farms was Akitakomachi.

 

We detected significant differences in estimates of early plant vigor among water treatments at JM. The control plants were significantly more vigorous compared to the saturated and low treatment plants (P = 0.004; Figure 4). The average plant vigor for the 3 water treatments are as follows: control = 63.0; low = 45.1, and saturated = 43.1. This finding correlates with the notion that water retains a significant amount of heat and creates a much milder environment for rice early in the season (Akaogi 2009). Plant vigor between low and saturated treatment plants did not differ significantly (P = 0.74). However, plant vigor between control plants and low water plants differed (P = 0.005), as well as between control plants and saturated plants (P = 0.002). There were no significant differences in early plant vigor among experimental water treatments at WSRF (P = 0.81).

 

We had the opportunity to determine differences between rice plants grown in 5-gallon buckets versus rice grown in paddies at WSRF. We found interesting results, as plants grown in buckets were significantly more vigorous early in the season compared to plants grown in paddies (Table 3). Plants grown in buckets, on average, had a plant vigor value of 366.0, where plants grown in paddies had a plant vigor value of 293.8. Recall that plant vigor is the products of number of tillers and tiller height and is a metric that estimates early season plant size. Black, 5-gallon buckets may provide rice plants with warmer conditions early in the season compared to paddies at WSRF. Also, some buckets contained wind-dispersed Azolla, a nitrogen-fixing water fern that grows in the paddies. The buckets with Azolla were noted in the dataset, and no differences were found in early season plant vigor between buckets containing Azolla and those not containing Azolla. Azolla was removed from all buckets after these early season measurements were collected to keep the experiment controlled.

 

Late season (July – September) estimates of plant vigor – JM Plants and Produce

In mid-July at both farms, the non-reproductive tillers began maturing into reproductive culms that produce panicles, the inflorescences of grasses that produce a cluster of spikelets (i.e., grass flowers) that, once pollinated, mature into the grain. At this time, we set up bird netting at both farms to prevent birds from eating the grain.

 

We gathered data on panicle height (i.e., measured from the base of the plant to the top of the panicle) on July 19 2012 solely at JM to determine whether there were differences in the growth of reproductive plants among water treatments and rice varieties. Significant differences in late season panicle height were detected among water treatments (P < 0.0001; Figure 5), as control plants had the largest panicles, followed by saturated treatments plants and low water treatment plants. We analyzed each pair of water treatments (i.e., C – L, S – C, and S – L) with t-tests, and each pair was significantly different from one another (all pairs, P < 0.0001).

 

Throughout the month of September, we counted the number of panicles at JM for a late season estimate of plant vigor. The vast majority of low water treatment plants did not survive throughout the season and/or did not produce panicles. Akitakomachi did not have mature panicles as of our last data collection on September 25, 2012, but all other rice varieties had mature panicles. Akitakomachi is a variety cited to be late-maturing in the Northeast (Takeshi Akaogi, personal communication). Matsumae and M202 tended to produce the most panicles at the end of the season compared to Hayayuki. However, there were no significant differences among the 3 rice varieties that produced panicles at JM (P = 0.19). Number of panicles produced by rice plants in the 3 experimental water treatments differed significantly (P = 0.02). Surprisingly, the low water treatment plants produced the most panicles (average number of panicles: saturated = 14.8; control = 14.2; low = 24.8). This result may be driven by the fact that all surviving low water treatment plants were the Matsumae variety, which had the largest number of panicles on average (Table 1).

 

Grain yield at JM

Rice farmers are most interested in the grain yield. We grew an estimated 2500 lbs per acre of rice in buckets at JM, which is substantial but significantly less than the 6500 lbs per acre yielded at the Akaogi Farm in southern Vermont (Akaogi NESARE Report 2008, available by request through NESARE). We used 240 square feet of space at JM, and 168 square feet of plants produced viable and harvestable grain. We harvested all stems from plants at JM in late September 2012. At harvest time at JM, we noted a large amount of browsing by field mice, and we also observed a small amount of birds eating the grain because they flew under the netting to access the seed. Harvested stems were transported to the Plant Biology laboratory at the University of Vermont to score seed set and seed weight.

 

We used analysis of variance (ANOVA) to assess differences in total grain yield and grain weight among the 3 water treatments (i.e., control, saturated, and low) at JM. We did not detect significant differences in total grain yield (P = 0.50) or grain weight (P = 0.27) among water treatments at JM. It is significant to note that, once again, there were absolutely no differences in grain yield between the control and saturated plants (P = 0.95), indicating again that rice grown in the Northeast does not require a high water table to flourish throughout the season and produce ample grain.

 

Matsumae and Hayayuki varieties had the highest yields at JM, as well as WSRF (results presented below). These results, coupled with the germination and seedling vigor data presented in Figures 1 and 2, indicate that Hayayuki and Matsumae are the 2 rice varieties best suited to the Northeastern climate of the 4 strains that were tested in this experiment. However, the California strain M-202 also yielded a significant amount of grain at JM in Shelburne, VT in the warmer Champlain Valley. These results indicate that California rice varieties (e.g., M202) may be less tolerant of cold temperatures and should be avoided in colder, higher elevation regions of the Northeast but can be grown with success in warmer regions, such as the Champlain Valley. The Akaogi’s trialed 25 varieties of rice in collaboration with Cornell University in 2008 (Akaogi NESARE Report 2008, available by request through NESARE), but only 2 strains were California strains (M-16 and M-201). Farmers in warmer regions of the Northeast should freely experiment with growing less cold-hardy rice varieties outside of the northern Japan region, as has been traditionally grown in the state.

 

Grain yield at WSRF

We multiplied the average number of seeds per panicle by the average number of panicles per plant to estimate yield for our 4 rice varieties under 3 experimental water treatments. Data was collected only from rice plants that were not browsed by animals. There was a large degree of end-of-season browsing by farm-raised ducks at WSRF.

 

The experimental design at WSRF allowed us to compare grain yield in bucket-raised rice plants compared to paddy-raised plants. We found that bucket-raised rice plants yielded significantly more grain compared to the paddy plants (average total seed production per plant: bucket = 927.2; paddy = 257.5; P < 0.0001; Figure 6). Although it was not directly tested, there could be a variety of reasons why bucket-raised plants outperformed paddy plants, including, but not limited to increased temperatures in buckets and/or lower weed pressure in buckets. Farmers that have interest in growing rice but have not yet constructed paddies, we suggest germinating ~5 g of seed for each variety of interest. Then, transplant 2-3 plants per 5-gallon bucket. This is a reasonable, cost-effective, and successful method of growing seed stock for the first year of rice production.

 

We used analysis of variance (ANOVA) to assess differences in total grain yield among the 3 water treatments (i.e., control, saturated, and low) at WSRF. There were marginally significant differences among the 3 treatments (average total seed production per plant: control = 673.1; low = 427.2; saturated = 749.3; P = 0.06; Figure 7). However, when individual t-tests were used to make paired comparisons between the average grain yield between pairs of water treatments, some significant patterns emerged from the dataset. The “saturated” and “low” water treatments had significantly different grain yields (S – L; P = 0.05), and the “control” and “low” water treatments were marginally different (C – L; P = 0.06). However, the “saturated” and “control” water treatments were not significantly different from one another in terms of total grain yield (S – C; P = 0.65), indicating that rice farming in the Northeast need not be as water-intensive as is normally practiced on-farm. In fact, plants raised in saturated water conditions produced more seeds, on average, compared to control plants, although this was not a statistically significant difference. However, many Northeastern farmers utilize water to flood rice paddies as a method of weed control. Flooded paddies create anaerobic conditions that release large amounts of methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, therefore exacerbating the effect of climate change. We recommend alternative methods of weed suppression but realize the labor-intensive repercussions due to the lack of mechanization for rice farming in our region.  

 

Even though rice does not require flooded soils, many farmers in the Northeast use flooding as a means of weed control. However, flooding the soil creates anaerobic conditions and results in a build-up of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses that accelerate global warming. Rice paddies are considered one of the most important anthropogenic sources of atmospheric methane that contributes to climate change, as cited in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Reference Manual (1996). Flooding paddies is an unsustainable method of weed control. Flooded conditions boost early growth for the rice plants but are unnecessary past the early season (mid-June). Sustainable water use management strategies for rice farmers is a top priority of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and they are investigating management strategies for rice farmers to cope with the effects of climate change (Wassmann, 2007). To date, the IRRI recommends that farmers establish efficient irrigation infrastructure, coupled with water-saving techniques. Good nutrient management with alternate wetting and drying are also recommended as a sustainable management practice (IRRI, 2010). Nonetheless, Vermont rice farmers are concerned about weed control, so more time and money must be directed toward determining effective weed control methods such as the use of cover crops. Winter cover crop species for rice in the Northeast have yet to be determined, but there is research on cover crops in the southern U.S. (McClung et al. 2013) that could be applied to our region.

 

The only rice varieties that survived the entire season and were not significantly browsed by animals at WSRF were Hayayuki and Matsumae, which had significantly different total grain yields (P = 0.001). Matsumae thrived in drought conditions (average total seed production per plant: control = 812.0; low = 1297.6; saturated = 795.2; Figure 8). Hayayuki, however, cannot tolerate low water conditions, but was highest yielding in saturated water conditions (average total seed production per plant: control = 580.6; low = 302.9; saturated = 726.4; Figure 9). Furthermore, Matsumae performed equally well in control and saturated water conditions, indicating that less water-intensive practices are sufficient for high grain yields with these particular varieties.

 

We did not quantify percent sterility per panicle post-harvest as a measure of cold-resistance, but the Hayayuki plants grown in low water conditions were largely sterile, whereas the M202 plants grown in saturated and control water treatments yielded full, dense grains at JM. We do not have any data, quantitative or anecdotal, on percent sterility from WSRF.

 

Due to the large degree of browsing of the grain at both farms, we did not yield a significant amount of grain to process. Therefore, no rice was threshed and dehulled. Instead, all grain was stored as seed stock for planting in 2013 and 2014. The rice grown at WSRF was kept on-farm, whereas the grain yielded from JM Plants and Produce was collected and brought to the Plant Biology laboratory in Jeffords Hall at the University of Vermont. Some seeds from JM were used in a Vermont Science Fair project discussed in the “Outreach” section below, or disseminated to farmers and homeowners interested in growing rice at the February 2012 Rice Growing Panel at UVM. Some seed (< 20 g) is currently being stored by Dr. Laura Hill Bermingham in the Plant Biology laboratory in Jeffords Hall at UVM.

 

Biodiversity survey at WSRF

We sampled rice paddies and holding ponds at WSRF for aquatic wildlife in August 2012. The major findings were that no wildlife was detected in the rice paddies, but it was inferred that paddies provide suitable habitat for amphibians in early spring (April/May). There are 3 holding ponds at WSRF of variable age (3 – 7 years old). The lower and upper ponds housed mainly larvae from the following insect families: Diptera, Odonata, and Hemiptera. In addition, many isopods and crayfish were noted in each pond. Some green frogs were observed in all the ponds. The oldest pond (7 years old) housed the greatest diversity of aquatic wildlife, including Eastern newts, water boatman, green frog tadpoles, isopods, dipterans, and odonate larvae. More detailed species data and substrate data on each pond can be found in the Biodiversity Survey Database (pp. 19-20). These data will be complimentary to the wildlife assays conducted at the Akaogi Farm in West Westminster, VT. We were unable to estimate the index of biotic integrity (IBI) based on crayfish, fish, and amphibian assemblages due to the low sample sizes of aquatic wildlife at WSRF.

References

Akaogi, T. and Akaogi, L. 2009. Rice Growing Manual for the Northeast USA. Provided by NESARE office, Burlington VT.

 

Hill Bermingham, L. (2010). Deer herbivory and habitat type influence long-term population dynamics of a rare wetland plant. Plant Ecology, 210: 359 – 378

 

Hoffman, M.P. and Smith, D.L. Feeding our great cities: Climate change and opportunities for agriculture in eastern Canada and the Northeastern US. A publication from Cornell and McGill Universities:
https://www.ca.uky.edu/…/US-CanadaClimateChangeWhitePaper.pdf

 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Reference Manual, 1996: http://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/gl/invs1.html

 

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) website, http://irri.org/. Accessed October 16, 2011.

 

McClung A.M. et al, 2013. Integrating choice of variety, soil amendments, and cover crops to optimize organic rice production: http://www.ushrl.saa.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?SEQ_NO_115=297056

 

Wassmann, Reiner. 2007. Coping with Climate Change. Rice Today, July – September issue, p. 11-15.

 

Vermont Hardiness Zone Map, www.gardentimeonline.com/VermontHardinessZoneMap.html, accessed January 29, 2014.

Research conclusions:
Major findings

  • Early growth measurement differed significantly between farms, most likely due to different fertilizing regimes.
  • Early growth measurements indicate that young plants require more water, as water retains a significant amount of heat and creates a much milder environment for rice early in the season (Akaogi 2009).
  • Rice grown in buckets was more vigorous and produced more grain compared to paddy rice. This is most likely because there was no weed pressure as there was in the paddies, although this was not directly measured in this study.
  • Most rice grown in Vermont is Hayayuki, but Matsumae performed better in terms of germination, vigor, and grain yield when the 2 strains are compared quantitatively. Matsumae is best suited for saturated and low water conditions. Hayayuki is best suited for wet conditions, but saturated (not flooded) soils are sufficient for high yields. Farmers can use these data to carefully select the rice variety based on the farm conditions (wet soils, dry soils, etc.), and, in addition, farmers can selectively plant each of these varieties in different area of the farm based on water availability throughout the season.
  • Hayayuki rice requires abundant water and cannot tolerate drought throughout the growing season. However, the across-the-board lack of statistical differences between the “control” and “saturated” treatments imply that rice paddies do not need to be completely flooded to yield the highest amount of grain. Rice can be farmed with minimal water, but when extreme weather events such as Tropical Storm Irene hit the Northeast, rice paddies can act as stormwater detention basins and absorb the pulses of rain.
  • The constructed wetlands that support paddy rice on farms provide multiple ecosystems services and add additional habitat for aquatic wildlife, as is evidenced in the biodiversity survey from WSRF.
  • Many farmers, gardeners, homeowners, and scientists throughout the state of Vermont are interested in collaborating on projects that aim to increase rice production in the Northeast and analyze the effectiveness of using rice paddies as riparian buffers along waterways in the state. The Rice Growing Symposium at UVM in February 2012 brought individuals from diverse backgrounds together to have a conversation about rice farming. However, much more time, effort, and funding is needed to build and maintain a network of individuals interested in rice growing in the Northeast.
  • There are a multitude of unanswered questions surrounding rice growing in the Northeast. The major issues cited by rice farmers in Vermont are lack of infrastructure, and reduced grain yields due to weeds and pests. Biologists could team up with farmers to target specific cover crop species that aim to reduce weed pressure, and UVM Extension could provide pest management advice to rice farmers as pest continue to invade rice paddies in the Northeast.   Rice farmers could form cooperatives to purchase necessary infrastructure, such as transplanters and dehullers, to avoid individual farms incurring high costs of infrastructure. Much more time, energy, and funding will be required to meet the challenges that face Northeastern rice farmers.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The NESARE project on growing rice in the Northeast offers great opportunities for outreach, as rice is a relatively novel grain crop for the northeast region of North America, so there is much information to share and still much to learn. We met most, but not all, of the proposed outreach activities and performed additional outreach that was not anticipated in the original grant proposal. An outline of the outreach follows and additional flyers and summary notes are attached to the report.

 

Interview: Growing Rice in Vermont? Some Farmers Say it Works

Dr. Laura Hill Bermingham was interviewed on The :30 WCAX-Channel 3 news about the rice project in early Spring 2012. It provided a great opportunity to reach a broad audience that may not have otherwise known about rice farming in Vermont. The interview link is posted on the Plant Biology Department website at UVM and can be viewed in its entirety here:

http://www.wcax.com/story/17214580/growing-rice-in-vermont-some-farmers-say-it-works

 

Flood and Drought Resiliency Food Production farm tour at Whole Systems Research Farm

August 29, 2012

Event Hosts: Dr. Laura Hill Bermingham and Ben Falk

http://nofavt.org/events/flood-and-drought-resiliency-food-production

Participants will tour the Whole Systems Research Farm to see how one small farm and homestead mitigated the effects of Tropical Storm Irene by utilizing a diverse polyculture integrated with earthworks, which supports the farm through drought, flood, high winds, and pest pressure. Workshop participants will also view a current research project in collaboration with NESARE and UVM analyzing how varying water levels affect rice production in the farm’s terraced rice paddies.

 

Rice Farming in Vermont symposium: Opportunities and Challenges

February 26, 2012

University of Vermont

Event hosts: Dr. Laura Hill Bermingham, UVM Plant Biology Department, NESARE grant recipient 2012; Laura Ryser, Lake Champlain Sea Grant; Desiree Mack, NESARE intern

 

The rice farming symposium attracted a diverse array of people from the farming community, including Master Gardeners and Bhutanese refugees with New Farms for New Americans, as well as University of Vermont faculty and students, employees with US Fish and Wildlife and the Vermont Land Trust. Here, Vermont rice farmers Erik Andrus (Boundbrook Farm), Ben Falk (Whole Systems Design Research Farm), Josh Brill (Breezy Meadows Orchard and Nursery), and Sjon and Elysha Welters (Center for Natural Living) were members of our panel. The panel discussion, followed by questions from the audience, summarized the rice farming activities on each farm over the last few years. Each member of the audience received a summary sheet with rice data and farmer contact information. Sjon and Elysha provided small packets (~5g) of rice seed for participants to take with them for free. After the panel discussion, we all broke into 3 small groups for round-table discussions. There were 3 major questions guiding the interactive session: (1) Who are you, and why are you interested in rice farming?, (2) What are the opportunities for growing rice and how can we exploit them?, and (3) What are the challenges and how can we meet them?

Event flyer and extensive symposium summary notes including a participant list is attached

 

Dr. Laura Hill Bermingham’s rice research on the UVM website:

My UVM website hosts information on the NESARE project and includes links and references for those interested in growing rice: http://www.uvm.edu/~lhill/?Page=rice.html

 

Effects of biodegradation products of polyurethane on rice germination Vermont State Science Fair project

I mentored Lin Pease, a junior at Burlington High School, on her research project entitled “Effects of biodegradation products of polyurethane on rice germination.” Lin was interested in whether biodegraded plastics could be reintroduced into the environment to support plant life. She used the fungus Aspergillus niger to degrade the plastics, as this species can use polyester polyurethane as its sole carbon source and continue to degrade under anaerobic conditions. She then watered rice seedlings with the degraded plastic to determine the effect on rice germination. Lin’s major result was that biodegradation of plastics by A. niger alone is insufficient to reintegrate plastic into the environment, because rice germination was significantly delayed when exposed to biodegraded polyurethane. A poster presenting the completed project was submitted to the Vermont State Science Fair in May 2012.

 

Now that the NESARE project is complete, Dr. Laura Hill Bermingham will present the major findings of this report at the 2014 Plant Biology Marvin Seminar series at the University of Vermont and at the NOFA-VT Summer workshop series in summer 2014. I also plan to submit a manuscript of this project in Spring 2014 to Sustainable Agriculture for publication.

 The major findings of this project yielded a few key farmer recommendations that will add to the existing knowledge in the Rice Growing Manual (Akaogi 2009). I will present these recommendations at the NOFA-VT conference and add them to my UVM website. The farmer recommendations are as follows:

A reasonable, cost-effective, and successful method of growing seed stock for the first year of rice production, especially for farmers that have interest in growing rice but have not yet constructed paddies, is to germinate ~5 g of seed for each variety of interest. Germinate seedlings in a germination mix or on-farm soil in deep-cell seedling trays covered with plastic domes in a cold-frame and fertilize seedlings prior to transplant for the most vigorous seedlings. Then, transplant 2-3 plants per 5-gallon bucket.

Rice grown in the Northeast (at least the 4 varieties tested here) does not require constant flooding to flourish throughout the season and produce ample grain. Saturated soil conditions are sufficient. However, water retains a significant amount of heat and creates a much milder environment for rice early in the season (Akaogi 2009). If the farmland is especially wet, rice can tolerate these conditions and the land can be utilized for farming. Farmers may use flooding to decrease weed pressure, but this is an unsustainable farming practice that creates anaerobic conditions and releases a large amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere that contributes to global warming. Alternative strategies of weed suppression, such as using cover crops, should be explored prior to using flooding.

Two rice varieties from northern Japan (i.e., Hayayuki and Matsumae) are best suited to the Northeastern climate of the 4 strains that were tested in this experiment. Matsumae can tolerate extended drought periods, whereas Hayayuki is less tolerant of drought.

A California rice variety, M-202, yielded a significant amount of grain in Shelburne, VT. Farmers in warmer regions of the Northeast should freely experiment with growing less cold-hardy rice varieties outside of the northern Japan region, as has been traditionally grown in the state.

 Proposed outreach that did not come to fruition

The Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes Elementary in Burlington, VT was not able to coordinate a workshop on growing rice in buckets with the school children.  However, I have saved some rice seed grown in Shelburne in 2012 to host a workshop in summer 2014.

Josh Carter, Market Gardener for Shelburne Farms, was unable to host a rice paddy analysis and assessment demonstration in 2012.  Nonetheless, Josh and I stay in touch and I will continue to foster Shelburne Farm’s interest in growing rice.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.