COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS, US — A team of researchers from Texas A&M has found more rice can be produced while minimizing environmental impacts by focusing on cropping systems with large yield gaps and poor use of inputs.

The researchers studied yield gap and resource-use efficiency across 32 of the world’s top producing rice cropping systems. These systems account for 70% of the rice-harvest area and 51% of rice production globally. Their research is highlighted in an article published in Nature Communications.

They found that the global rice production systems could increase production by 36% and all but eliminate excess nitrogen by focusing attention on a small number of cropping systems with large yield gaps and poor use of inputs. Key inputs to make a crop – water, pesticides, nitrogen, labor and energy – were evaluated.

“What we’ve found is most of these major rice cropping systems have room for improvement with regards to yield and resource efficiencies,” said Ted Wilson, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Beaumont. “These can easily be achieved and protect the environment for decades to come. The research outcomes are very strategic, certainly assisting in prioritizing global research and development with the overarching goal of the world having enough rice to meet the demands of future population projections.”

In evaluating yield-gap efficiencies, the researchers found several concerns about the sustainability of future rice cropping systems.

“We are seeing yield plateaus in major rice-producing regions such as California, China, Indonesia and South Korea,” Wilson said. “The second concern is that these regions consume as much as 30%, 14% and 10% of global use irrigation water, fertilizers and pesticides (respectively).”

The cost of labor and associated input costs make rice production less attractive to farmers in some regions, according to the research, especially where governments provide support mechanisms and subsidies.

Achieving as much as 70% to 80% yield potential is possible for farmers who have access to stable markets, ample inputs and resources.