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

2012 Annual 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

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

Summary

Laura Hill Bermingham, farmers and interns set up the proposed experiment to examine how 4 different rice strains could tolerate varying water levels (standing water, saturated soil, and “drought”/dry soils) during spring 2012 at 2 Vermont farms. All data has been collected and is currently being analyzed. Outreach activities included a farm tour, local news story, conference attendance, and website updates in 2012. Additional outreach activities, including a rice-growing workshop at the Sustainability Academy and an analysis and assessment for rice paddy construction at Shelburne Farms, will be completed in spring/summer 2013. Two presentations on the project results are scheduled for spring and summer at UVM and the NOFA conference, respectively.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Throughout the growing season, we tracked rice plant growth and survival under each water treatment. Upon harvest, we counted total grain on a per-plant basis. In July 2012, Laura Hill Bermingham and UVM colleague Luc Bernacki monitored wildlife in the rice paddies and holding ponds on the Whole Systems Design Research Farm in Moretown VT. Our results will inform northeastern farmers interested in growing rice about the best strains to grow depending on water availability on their farm, and will quantify biodiversity in rice paddies and ponds. A flood resiliency workshop was held in Fall 2012 where participants viewed rice paddies at Whole Systems Design Research Farm and discussed the benefits and costs of rice farming. Laura Hill Bermingham was interviewed on WCAX in spring 2012 about growing rice in the northeast and the clip is available on the WCAX and Plant Biology websites. Laura Hill Bermingham also attended the 3rd annual rice growing conference at the Akaogi Farm in Westminster VT and disseminated preliminary project results and contact information among participants.

Accomplishments/Milestones

All activities under the categories “Rice paddy maintenance,” “Rice seed germination and transplant,” “Plant care and data collection,” and “Processing grain” in the timetable were completed on time as planned. We got very low germination yields on 1 rice strain “Akitakomachi,” and thus had only a few plants as replicates during the growing season. As the season unfolded, especially as the grain matured, we realized that a major pest of the Shelburne farm rice was field mice. Mice ate the majority of the grain from the Shelburne plants, so we harvested remaining grain and brought it into the lab at UVM to count and weigh seeds. At Whole Systems Design Research Farm in Moretown, the major pests were ducks, which decimated the majority of the grain at the end of the season. Given these situations of grain loss, we will extrapolate potential yield from these data, while also reporting actual harvest in the final report. We also did not dehull the rice as it will be used as seed stock for 2013. We are in the process of data entry, analysis and final reporting. Laura Hill Bermingham created a website highlighting the rice project, and the website will be updated in spring 2013 as data are analyzed. Outreach activities were completed, but not comprehensively. We held 1 farm tour at Whole Systems Design Research Farm in 2012 and plan to coordinate the remaining outreach activities with Lawrence Barnes and Shelburne Farms in spring 2013. A local news story highlighted the project and growing rice in the northeast in general. Results from the NESARE project will be presented at the UVM seminar series and NOFA conference in spring and summer 2013, respectively.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

All results are subjective and preliminary, but all 4 rice strains survived and produced grain. The “drought”/dry soil rice plants had the lowest survival and seed set by far, and I will be surprised to find a statistical difference between the saturated and standing water/control plants. If these preliminary results hold up after analysis, this will imply that farmers need not use an excess of water to grow rice on their farm. California strain M202, a previously unknown rice strain in the northeast, grew successfully and produced grain in Shelburne but not Moretown. A well-known northeastern performer, Hayayuki from Hokkaido Japan, performed the best among all 3 water treatments, followed by another Hokkaido strain, Matsumae. Due to the low germination rate for the Akitakomachi strain, there will likely be no statistical difference among water treatments. Outreach activities, local news stories, and conversations with rice growing conference participants corroborated the interest in farming rice in the northeast. Future hindrances to growing rice in the northeast cited by many rice farmers in the northeast include weed competition and lack of mechanization for transplant, maintenance, and harvest.

Collaborators:

Ben Falk

ben@wholesystemsdesign.com
Owner
Whole Systems Design Research Farm
66 Dean’s Mountain
Moretown, VT 05660
Office Phone: 8023439490
Website: http://www.wholesystemsdesign.com/
John Maeck

mwfarmcsa@gmail.com
Owner
JM Plants and Produce Farm
640 Webster Rd.
Shelburne, VT 05482
Office Phone: 8029858790