Rice is a dietary staple of more than half of the world’s population and is grown on every continent except Antarctica. In the U.S., there are about 5,500 rice farmers who grow the crop on approximately 2.8 million acres. The vast majority of U.S. rice is grown in six states: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. International trade is important to the industry – about half of the U.S. crop is exported.
Rice is unique because it’s a semi-aquatic plant, requiring irrigation throughout the growing season. The crop is particularly well suited for the Mississippi River Delta Region, from Missouri to Louisiana, where there is an abundance of clay and silt loam soils that retain water well. There are many methods for cultivating rice, but traditionally, farmers build levies in their fields, and after planting, they flood the land with 2-4 inches of water. After the crop matures, farmers drain their fields and collect the harvest. Rice farms often serve as important habitats for waterfowl and other species. In addition, farmers and agricultural researchers are continually innovating new ways for managing crops and conserving water.