Raising Rice

February 16, 2007


This is the second of two articles about Massa Organics and rice farming. To read the first article, click here.

In early spring, Massa Organic’s fields are a lush, violet-speckled green. Greg Massa, a fourth-generation rice farmer who farms with his wife and parents, says they keep their cover crop of purple vetch in the ground for as long as they can. Since organic farming does not use synthetic fertilizers, cover crops are important for turning atmospheric nitrogen into compounds usable by plants. In early April, they turn the vetch under, disc the soil, carefully level it, add compost, and then divide the fields into small basins, each slightly lower than the previous. After the basins are flooded to a depth of three to five inches, seeds are distributed by plane and settle into furrows in the soil. Rice plants begin to peek above the water in late spring and by harvest time in September, the mature grass is heavy with seed and about three feet tall.

Massa Organics’ rice, because it is sold brown, is left on the plant to mature beyond the time typical for rice that will be sold white. At the mill, the rice is hulled, but the bran and germ layers are left on the grain. White rice is the polished endosperm of the grain without the outer layers, which contain a considerable amount of nutrition.

Throughout the growing season, the fields remain flooded (the Massa’s recirculate their irrigation water), and the pond-mimicking environment hosts birds, insects, mammals, and many other organisms. More than 90% of the Central Valley’s natural wetlands have disappeared to agricultural and urban development in the past 150 years, and the habitat that rice fields provide (both flooded and dry) is vital for displaced species. The Central Valley is also part of the Pacific Flyway, one of four major migratory bird routes in the United States.

Greg and his wife Raquel Krach, both former tropical biologists, take seriously their farm’s status as a home to other species. They are even exploring the unheard-of possibility of creating permanent habitat for water fowl and shore birds within their rice fields. A statement on their website reads, “…we measure improvements to the farm not just in crop yields, but in the numbers of Sandhill Cranes and California Quail we see using the land.”