Investigation of a Low-external-input Sustainable Rice Production System to Identify Ecosystem Services Towards Adoption Costs and Benefits

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $16,476.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Mississippi State University
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Beth Baker
Mississippi State University


  • Agronomic: rice


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cropping systems, fertilizers, nutrient cycling, nutrient management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health


    Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population and has the ability to support more people per unit of land area than wheat or corn because rice produces more food energy and protein per hectare than other grain crops. However, with the human population projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, there are major concerns about the sustainability of rice production practices because of its major role in consumption of natural resources, namely water and soil. There is a critical need to identify sustainable production practices that are economically feasible and minimize adverse environmental effects. The purpose of this project is to investigate a potentially sustainable rice production system in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) that uses ecological principles to enhance environmental quality and economic gain at the field scale. We hypothesize that the annual flooding of rice fields to create water bird habitat will benefit soil health and water quality and increase avian biodiversity, as well as provide agronomic benefits to the farmer. Soil health, avian biodiversity, and water quality will be quantified to determine the profitability of implementing this system. Proof of concept at the field scale will provide a framework for other producers within the MAV to adopt similar management methods, ultimately improving the overall integrity of soil, water, and environmental quality as well as the farmer lifestyle.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1: Determine the impact of agronomic practices on soil health in rice production systems: conventional vs low-external-input. Based on the farmer reports of fertilizer input, literature reports of impacts of bird habitat use, and tillage practices, we hypothesize that soil health, in terms of structure, microbial diversity, and nutrient availability, will be greater at the low-external-input production site.

    Objective 2: Determine potential drawbacks of low-external-input rice cultivation. Based on literature reports of migratory bird habitat use, and preliminary soil pathogen and bird use data, we hypothesize that greater pathogen detection will be correlated with bird abundance and flooded low-external-input production fields.

    Objective 3: Determine effects of farming approach of water quality and runoff in rice productions systems: Conventional vs low-external-input. Based on farmer reports of water recapture methods and previous data from continuous flooded rice fields, we hypothesize that water runoff from low-external-input production will be lower in quantity, but higher in quality.

    Objective 4: Quantify adoption and implementation economic costs and benefits to producers. Based on producer documentation of costs associated with system implementation in comparison to calculated benefits (yield impacts, economic gains of using less fertilizer, hunting lease potential, intrinsic value), we hypothesize that the low-external-input system will provide overall economic stability and profitability with long-term adoption.

    While agricultural land has been identified as suitable wintering habitat for several avian guilds, this project is innovative and original because the use of this habitat toward developing an ecologically driven, integrated agriculture system has not been documented. We expect this work to result in documentation of management methods which will provide a foundation for sustainable information and technology transfer to producer peer groups, researchers, and policy makers. These outcomes are expected to have a positive impact on the sustainability of rice agriculture and protection of natural resources by providing scientific linkages between sustainable rice agriculture and ecosystem services in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. The results will be translational at the producer scale, while ecosystem services will be applicable toward the restoration of natural functions and enhancement of wintering habitats for water birds. If adoption benefits outweigh costs, implementation at other rice production sites can spearhead the growth of a conservation paradigm shift.



    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.