Perennial Rice Could Lead to a More Sustainable Future, Study Says
New research says that a new perennial rice produces grain while cutting labor costs and improving ecosystems.
The secret to a more sustainable food source? Changing our attitudes around agriculture. A recent study in the journal Nature found that a new ilk of rice—annual Asian rice Oryza sativa hybridized with African perennial Oryza longistaminata—produces more grain, improves soil quality, and cuts labor costs.
Say hello to perennial crops (or, at the very least, a cool new kind of rice).
How Can Perennial Crops Help the Environment?
Annual farming was adopted by our ancestors as a means of control during cultivation: we sow, we reap, we eat, we replant, all with flexibility should the elements affect our harvest. These days, annual crops account for 80% of the global food supply—but reliance on annual over perennial crops comes at a cost.
Pulling up vegetation each season ups our use of labor, energy, pesticides and insecticides, and more, leaving the soil depleted and even barren with each harvest. Perennial plants, on the other hand, provide ground cover and increase soil nutrition, all while producing more food, and these factors combine to save farmers money and improve the overall health of the ecosystem.
And What About the Rice?
According to researchers, the new hybrid rice was found to produce grain at stable yields for eight consecutive seasons over four years. In addition, the reduction in tillage and disturbance came with major benefits, increasing both the organic carbon and the total nitrogen in the soil.
The capacity for plant-available water increased, too, and with the maintenance of soil structure, methane emissions decreased in turn.
The successful cultivation of perennial rice is a recent development, but with time could lead to major (and delicious) improvements to the way we grow and eat food.
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