How are rice fields converted into rice

Swiss rice is good for the environment

You have to know that

  • Rice is grown on flooded fields, for example between Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Murten.
  • This brings back wetlands and promotes biodiversity in the area.
  • Because a lot of water is needed, Swiss rice will remain a niche product.

Will we soon be eating sustainable Swiss rice? Little by little, flooded rice fields are emerging in the Swiss plateau. There are six of them in total. It was created by the agricultural research institute of the federal government Agroscope in cooperation with several farmers. This rice is currently a niche product. And given the conditions rice growing requires, it's likely to remain a niche product as well.

Why we report about it. In Switzerland, the massive drainage of land has been known for a century. It is intended to make areas that are considered inferior usable. But drainage has led to the disappearance of many wetlands and associated fauna. The flooding of fields necessary for rice cultivation is therefore also an opportunity to restore wetlands, which promotes biodiversity. Especially against the background that agriculture is regularly criticized for its harmful environmental impact.

Rice fields. At the foot of Mont Vully, between Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Murten, Léandre Guillod is taking part in the Agroscope experiment for the second time in a row. This year he dedicated a plot of almost two hectares to rice cultivation.

"If I look at last year, I expect a yield of between 5 and 6 tons of rice this year."

Rice field near Vully.

 

On the eve of the harvest of his «Loto» risotto rice, Guillod explains what conditions are necessary for rice cultivation:

  • Flat floor,
  • Water in large quantities,
  • A water temperature of at least 20 degrees for optimal plant growth.

The third point is facilitated by global warming. Ten or twenty years ago, such a project would not have been possible for Léandre Guillod. However, converting the agricultural area is not always easy:

“At the moment, Swiss rice is an exclusive thing. And not all agricultural land has the potential to be turned into rice fields despite global warming. Because there is still a certain risk that rice will not ripen. "

In Chablais, Valais, farmer Stéphane Angst is also testing the construction of a rice field. He adds:

“At the moment, the project remains experimental with only one hectare. We expect a yield between 2.5 and 3 tons of rice. Maybe we can expand to two or three hectares in the coming years.

More than that would just be too much work, as growing rice requires leveling the soil, daily monitoring and manual weeding. That's why I see rice more as a complement to existing cultures than as a substitute. "

It is therefore difficult to imagine that local production will replace the 55,000 tonnes or so of rice that Switzerland imports every year. This exclusivity also makes it possible to charge a relatively high price of around 12 francs per kilogram. Léandre Guillod:

«It's a local and sustainable product. We not only sell rice, we also do a service for the environment. "

Benefits for biodiversity. It is impossible not to notice the frogs and dragonflies fleeing on the edge of the Vully rice field before our arrival. The use of herbicides is also limited: cultivation under ten centimeters of water limits the growth of weeds, with the exception of millet, which has to be pulled up by hand.

A frog in the rice field.

Emmanuel Revaz, employee of the Valais branch of the Swiss Ornithological Institute, takes part in the experiment by observing the evolution of biodiversity on the Chablais plot:

“As far as biodiversity is concerned, there are first promising signs. For example, around 20 dragonfly species were recorded. The same is true of around 30 species of birds, including waders, that only migrate to wetlands. Of course, these are results that only relate to one year, so we have to be careful. But it's encouraging. "

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High water consumption. Growing wet rice in flooded rice fields requires a lot of water, much more than a conventional crop. So is it wise to grow rice in a climate where droughts are likely to intensify? Léandre Guillod is confident:

“This water not only benefits the rice, but also the biological diversity that develops in the fields. In addition, our rice field is ideally located. It lies between the lakes with a pumping system in the Broye Canal, which is fed by Lake Murten instead of a smaller watercourse. This limits the effects of our activities on the natural water cycle. "

Stéphane Angst knows that this is a water-intensive culture. “But these lands were wetlands before drainage. The water we use here would otherwise not be used anyway. As long as we stick to niche production, that's not a problem. "

Heidi.news

Here you can find interesting facts from western Switzerland. The contributions come from our partner portal Heidi.news, we have translated them from French. Heidi.news is an online portal that was launched in May 2019 and which specializes in reporting on knowledge and health, among other things. The partnership between Heidi.news and higgs came about through cooperation with the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
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