For other environmental concerns, the California rice industry has often led the response. Since the 1980s, changes in irrigation management and other practices have led to a 98 percent reduction in pesticide residues entering public waterways from rice fields, according to Cass Mutters, also a UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Butte County.

“Right now the ongoing water monitoring program is paid for by the rice industry itself. So they’re policing themselves,” says Mutters. The reduction is attributable to an ongoing grower education program and to stringent water holding regulations that provide time for chemicals to break down before the water leaves the field.

Along with water quality, the rice industry supports an air quality monitoring network that enables the ARB to model how many acres can be burned without exceeding federal air quality standards. 

“So rice growers realize that being environmentally sensitive is part of their responsibility and they’re actually putting the dollar on the table to cover a lot of these costs,” says Mutters.

Ultimately, the industry has taken these efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while the percentage of emissions from California rice cultivation on the global scale is too low to be alarming. While California rice is a valuable crop within the U.S. and a major commodity in California, it represents 0.2 percent of the world’s rice acreage. Nonetheless, management practices tested in California could lead to massive GHG reductions, if applied globally.

“UC researchers will continue to collaborate with the rice industry to address important issues such as air and water quality and its impact of yield,” says van Kessel, “which is significant for California’s economy and contributes to global food security.”