rice grow

How and Where Does Rice Grow?

Jane Marsh - February 14, 2023

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The typical crop involves a seed, soil, water and sunlight for growth. However, only some plants work with this process. The planet has some unique crops that require special attention and tactics when you grow them. Rice is one of the most common crops on your dinner table. This grain requires more labor than you think, and it even has some repercussions on the environment. Read this guide if you’re wondering how and where rice grows in the US and worldwide.

How Does Rice Grow?

Rice is one of the most popular foods worldwide. You see it in dishes on nearly every continent, but the growing process is a bit complex. Rice is a semi-aquatic plant, requiring a lot of water compared to other plants. Typically, rice farmers will grow their crops in rotation with other grains like barley, canola and wheat. 

The first step in growing rice is to start in the right season. Most farmers grow rice by planting it in the spring. By summer, it’s time to cultivate the crops, and fall is the harvest season. The unique part of rice growing comes with irrigation. On average, rice requires between 3,000 and 5,000 liters (800 to 1300 gallons) to grow a kilogram of rice. 

Rice needs a heavy amount of water for a few reasons. First, it keeps the bugs away. Pests have a tougher time surviving in water, so heavy irrigation is a natural deterrent. Another reason it grows in flooded waters is to keep the weeds away. Rice has a unique ability to survive, while insects and weeds cannot. The aquatic environment lets rice avoid pesticides and other chemicals.

Growers will typically flood the paddies with around six inches. However, some types of rice need a foot or more water. For example, deepwater rice needs 20 inches or more to grow. The Indica cultivar species is likely the one you’re most familiar with. Deepwater rice is most prominent in south Asia, where millions of people use it daily for consumption.

Where Is Rice Grown in the US?

Many Asian countries grow rice, but the crop is prevalent in the United States. Growing rice needs a hot and humid climate, so you won’t be able to grow it in the milder climates of New England and the Pacific Northwest. 

What states do you think of for hot and humid weather? Southern states like Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi are the most prevalent areas for growing rice. Rice production almost exclusively takes place west of the Mississippi River, from Houston, Texas, up to the southeast corner of Missouri. 

Each area you visit grows a different type of rice. For example, long-grain rice is among the most common at the store. More than half (56% to 58%) of this crop grows in Arkansas. However, you’ll have to travel to the West Coast for medium-grain rice. The Sacramento Valley of California produces more than 70% of this crop. But droughts have negatively impacted these numbers. 

Where is Rice Grown in the Highest Amounts?

The United States grows a lot of rice. In fact, American farmers produce approximately 20 billion pounds annually. But those numbers pale in comparison to the production in Asian countries. If you look at the top 10 producers, nine come from Asia. The only country on the list from outside the continent is Brazil. Some of the leading countries include:

  • China: China is by far the world’s largest rice producer. The nation leads the world in many crops because of its size and suitable climate. Annually, China produces over 200 million tons of rice, accounting for about 28% of the world’s supply. High precipitation and warm weather south of the Yangzi River create the ideal climate for growing.
  • India: The next significant producer of rice is India. The second-place country grows over 175 million tons of rice annually, producing just under a quarter of the world’s supply. India and China combine for over half of the planet’s rice supply.
  • Indonesia: Besides China and India, there are still significant rice producers nearby. Indonesia is in third place, with just under 55 million tons produced in 2019. Rice is integral to the Indonesian economy, and the climate suits production. Indonesia sits on the equator, with most of the country just south. The weather is warm and humid year-round, creating optimal rice-growing conditions.
  • Bangladesh: The fourth-largest producer of rice is Bangladesh, a neighbor of India. It ranks just behind third-place Bangladesh with just over 54 million tons of rice produced. Bangladesh primarily has three types of rice: aush, aman and boro. Rice is critical for the Bangladesh economy, with nearly half of the rural residents working in production.
  • Vietnam: Fifth place goes to Vietnam, which produces over 43 million tons of rice annually. Vietnamese rice production accounts for just under six percent of the world’s supply. Vietnam has an ideal landscape for rice production because of the Mekong River. The Mekong Delta grows around 25 million tons of rice annually, showing how critical it is to the Vietnamese economy.

Does Growing Rice Contribute to CO2 Emissions?

You might not realize it, but crops like rice contribute to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In fact, rice is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. Each year, rice accounts for 12% of the planet’s methane emissions and about 3% of GHG emissions from human activities. 

How can you grow rice and negatively affect the planet? Methane typically comes from livestock, right? Rice’s anaerobic decomposition is the primary reason why rice is a significant culprit. This process happens when there isn’t any oxygen present to decompose, such as in landfills or rice paddies. Therefore, bacteria build in the soil and water, allowing the species to emit methane. 

There is hope for the future, though. Advancing technology has allowed growers to become more efficient with their planting and water usage. For example, Asian producers have started to use the Happy Seeder Machine. This mechanism is a no-till planter and significantly reduces GHG emissions. Making the rice industry greener would be a tremendous change for the planet.

How Does Rice Affect the Planet?

No matter where you travel, rice is a significant part of cultures worldwide. It’s an inexpensive crop that many countries grow. Six of the seven continents grow rice, but Asian countries lead the way, with the top nine producing over 80% of the world’s supply. 

Rice needs hot and humid conditions, so these countries have the best areas for production. High water consumption has pros and cons, leading to GHG emissions. But the future is looking better with innovations in rice growing.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.