Reforming Rice: Lundberg's Greener Farms

Article excerpt

Rice farming may look pretty from a distance, with its bucolic images of farmers in conical hats ankle deep in water as they cultivate green sprouts, but it has earned a bad environmental reputation because of its wasteful irrigation systems and incursions into wetlands. And the burning of rice fields has been blamed for childhood asthma cases, from Louisiana to Japan. One study found that asthma-related hospital visits went up 29 percent on days when rice was being burned.

States have taken action to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the air during the burning season (September through early November). And California now regulates toxic releases from rice burning in the Sacramento River Valley.

But not all rice farming is environmentally destructive. Lundberg Family Farms has been growing rice in the Sacramento River Valley since the 1930s. All three generations of Lundbergs are dedicated to growing rice organically. In place of chemical fertilizer, the farm routes cover crops such as clover and beans to provide nitrogen. The field is not burned following harvest, but is turned over so the rice waste can fertilize the soil.

The family recently installed a 196-kilowatt solar system that offsets the energy used in its manufacturing plant. The system is expected to produce 350,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, paying for itself in eight years. "The Lundbergs have always been on course when it comes to environmentally friendly practices," says Dan Kalafatas, vice president of 3Phases Energy, a partner in the project, Jessica Lundberg, the company's vice president, says green practices are in the genes. "My grandfather always said to leave the land better than how you found it," she says. …