I often get asked, “How long does it take to grow a rice crop?” Some rice varieties take 125 days to grow – others can take up to 170 days from seed to harvest. However, just because rice isn’t growing in the fields, doesn’t mean the rice fields are working. The truth is that rice fields are working 365 days a year.
Rice is planted in the Spring (April and May). The flooded fields are a biodiversity bonanza – shorebirds, waterfowl, frogs, snakes, crawfish, red worms, tadpole shrimp, and a ton of visible and nearly invisible bugs. One of my favorite are dragonflies, from the swimming nymphs to the fluttering adults, they spend their whole lives in rice fields.
Harvest happens in the fall. The water is slowly released and the fields dry up so the grain can be collected. After harvest is complete the straw is returned to the soil as a soil amendment – producing humus, organic matter, and eventually fertility and tilth. In addition to rice straw, usually about 200 lbs. of rice per acre remains in the fields after harvest. The rice is there at just the right time as migrating waterfowl and shore birds come to rice country for the winter.
While the straw is decomposing, waterfowl and shore birds comb the rice fields filling themselves with highly nutritious rice and other “good stuff” from the fields. The birds hang out in the rice fields – enjoying the wide open spaces. I’ve heard it said that over 60% of the food waterfowl eat while migrating comes from rice fields in the Sacramento Valley.
It may take 125 – 170 days for a rice plant to grow, but the rice fields are open for business 24/7 – 365 days a year. Rice grows during the spring, summer, and fall to provide food for people. Then reopen as habitat for the rest of the year for waterfowl and shorebirds. That’s pretty cool.