Low-Input Rice Production System Evaluated

A Mississippi State University study funded by Southern SARE compared conventional rice production practices to low-external-input practices that reduce external inputs by utilizing ecosystem resources. The low-external-input sustainable agriculture (LEISA) flooded rice fields over winter, creating a wetland-like habitat to reduce tillage, attract bird populations, and address soil health, water quality, and nutrient run-off. Researchers found that flooding fields in winter increased soil quality by attracting migratory birds whose waste contributed fertilization but was found not to cause a pathogen issue. Foraging birds also contributed to soil carbon by incorporating rice straw in the soil. Low-input fields in the study used less fertilizer and chemicals, and had lower planting costs. Although yields in the LEISA fields were lower, net returns were higher because of reduced costs.