Introducing Rice as a Commercial Crop to the Northeast USA, Phase 2

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:


  • Agronomic: rice


  • Farm Business Management: marketing management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: wetlands

    Proposal summary:

    Current Issue

    Rice (Oryza sativa) is originally from a tropical area, and only in the last several hundred years have human beings adapted it for commercial production in the colder temperate areas of NE China, Korea, and Hokkaido, Japan. Northeastern USA (lat 40-50 degrees N) is similar in climate to those areas. Despite that, it has not yet been introduced to this area.

    Our overall goal is to establish a sustainable rice growing system for the northeastern USA.

    For the past three years we have observed and recorded our rice paddy system and exchanged opinions about this system with a diverse group of people. We realized that to establish a sustainable rice growing system, we need to focus not only on the agronomic aspects but also on wetland wildlife and water management aspects. A rice paddy is a flooded and irrigated field thus functions as a human-made wetland and supports important wetland biodiversity, “such as fish, amphibians and insects, and play a significant role in waterbird flyways and the conservation of waterbird populations.” (from Draft Resolution X.31 of the 10th meeting of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in an international organization representing 158 countries whose goal is the “conservation and wise use of all wetlands”).

    And, within a watershed management plan a rice paddy system can “reinforce wetland conservation objectives and provide ecosystem services such as groundwater recharge, climate moderation, flood and erosion control, landslide prevention, provision of plant and or animal food resources and medicinal plants, and the conservation of biodiversity.” (Ramsar)

    We have been farming for 27 years, 22 years at our current 10-acre farm (a part of the Earthbridge Community Land Trust) in Westminster West, Vermont. At the moment, the two of us are full-time farmers and we do not have any hired help.

    From the beginning, we have farmed organically and sell our produce only to local markets (Community Supported Agriculture, Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market, local coops and restaurants). Since 2002, Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) has certified us as organic. We sell vegetables, fruit, honey, and eggs.

    We have designed our farm landscape ecologically by putting a buffer zone on the North and West border and planting various trees for windbreaks and wildlife. Next to the buffer zone, we located fruit trees (apple, peach, plums, pears, grapes, and quinces). Then, in the Southeast section, we have 3 greenhouses and the vegetable fields. We also have 100 laying hens and 6 beehives.

    The beginnings of our “Northern Rice Project” - Across the middle of our farm we have a wetland and adjoining it is marginal land that we couldn’t use for production of traditional fruits and vegetables. In the marginal land, we came up with the idea to try to grow rice, which is well suited to grow in waterlogged soil. Our intention is to have no impacts on identified/protected wetlands and to enhance marginal lands as wetlands for wildlife and other values. We built a small rice paddy in 2006 and two larger paddies in October of 2007. In 2008 we produced 467 lbs. of rough (unhulled) rice.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Gen Fumio Onishi of Cornell University is our technical advisor for this project. He was a rice farmer in Japan for 20 years prior to coming to the USA. He is now the greenhouse manager of the Rice Research Lab of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University.

    Professor Susan McCouch head of the Rice Research Lab of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics of Cornell University is our collaborator for this project. Susan McCouch is a rice geneticist who specializes in breeding rice for adaptation to particular environments.
    We will communicate regularly with both of them through e-mail. Both of them will attend the summer workshop at our farm. We will visit them in Ithaca NY at the end of the season to discuss the results of this year’s experiment and plan future projects.

    1. Preliminary evaluation to find varieties that produce seed at Akaogi Farm

    a. In the 25’ x 25’ rice paddy we will plant an equal number of plants of each variety. The general management is the same as in production comparisons plus additional weekly counting of stem number for plant vigor, and after harvest, we will evaluate cold resistance by estimating the percent sterility per panicle.

    b. The varieties we have been evaluating for the past three years have been mainly from Hokkaido, Japan, with favorable results. Next, we would like to experiment with varieties that grow in other parts of northeast Asia. We are currently processing the importation of seed from NE China and Korea with help from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and USDA, Beltsville, Maryland. We hope that the seeds will be available for next year’s experiment.

    c. Breeding Program – The varieties we have been evaluating for the past three years have been mainly from Hokkaido, Japan. These short-grain japonica- type varieties are especially bred for Japanese tastes and are most often eaten alone without flavorings. There are many other types grown all over the world: long grain, medium grain, mochi, Thai jasmine, Indian basmati, arborio, etc. All of these types lack cold tolerance, so we are not able to grow them in the Northeast USA.

    As part of an independently funded program, we will collaborate with Professor Susan McCouch of Cornell University to develop a rice variety improvement program to enhance cold tolerance and to introduce specific grain quality components of interest to consumers (i.e., aroma, long grain) and also to study marketing potential for rice and rice products.

    2. Production comparisons - In 2008 we selected three varieties representing each category of early maturing , mid early maturing & late maturing and compared the production. They yielded an average of 5,847 lb. /acre. In 2009 we will add one more category - sweet rice mochi. We will use the same three varieties from 2009, plus several additional varieties for each of the four categories.

    ---We will sow seed the middle to the end of April and transplant the middle to the end of May.

    ---Water Management - During the day water collects heat and releases heat
    during night, thus creating a favorable environment for rice growing. We will
    use water (i.e., by controlled flooding) to avoid damage associated with a late frost and also to extend the growing season four weeks or more.

    ---Weeds - we know we will have weeds, but with no herbicides we don’t know how much of a problem it will be. ---We will observe and record the weed situation, and will rogue weeds early in the season.

    ---Record Keeping: We will record temperature and rainfall over the season from April 1 – October 31.
    ---Harvest - cut, bundle, and hang using our new binder

    ---Processing - we will use a small, manpowered threshing machine and hope to purchase a dehulling and milling machine.

    B. WETLAND WILDLIFE – Enhance the biodiversity in rice paddies as human-made wetland systems
    During the duration of the grant term biologists/ecologists in several specialties will investigate and document the numerous wildlife species that inhabit our rice paddy. Monthly observations and subsequent research into species’ life cycles as observed in our rice paddy will be presented in detailed fact sheets. The fact sheets, as reviewed by the Vermont State Watershed Coordinator, will be made available during our workshops and to the public via distribution in area schools and the Natural Resources Conservation District offices.

    C. WATERSHED MANAGEMENT - The methods used to develop our rice paddy system are compatible with state and federal regulations relating to water quality and watershed management processes. They will also include devising systems and practices to protect and/or enhance associated wildlife in marginal land. This project is being conducted with guidance from the State Watershed Coordinator office for southeastern Vermont (Basin 13).

    This project is under consideration for inclusion as a recommended project within the Basin 13 Watershed Management Plan. This basin plan addresses impacts to surfact water at a watershed level and seeks to sustain and improve water quality through public education, multi-agency participation, while promoting specific projects that provide benefit to the local environment.

    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.