About a year ago, I found myself having a meeting with the head of one of the biggest organic rice processing facilities in Italy. This was a person who bought and sold enormous quantities of organic rice – and was an important potential client.
Our one-on-one conversation lasted about an hour, but the message was clear: you won’t be able to really grow rice organically, you will fail, and out of desperation you will spray herbicides in the middle of the night to save your crop.
In short, it was impossible to grow rice organically, so I shouldn’t even try.
While I left the meeting firmer in my conviction to grow organic rice, I also left feeling very alone in what I was trying to do – grow rice following natural cycles and without toxic chemicals.
Real vs. Fake Organic Rice
There are many reasons why it’s harder to grow rice organically than it is to grow other grains following organic methods. My neighbors think I’m crazy for even trying.
The rice ecosystem is dependent upon flooding, and the standing-water variable greatly complicates weed and disease management.
The difficulty in producing rice organically and the high demand for the product have created a market in which there is a fair amount of fraud in Italy.
The press has covered the issue and the regulators are trying to respond. But in Italian rice country – in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Northern Italy – there is a clear divide between farmers who are trying to grow “real” organic rice, and those who do “fake” organic and go into their fields at night to spray.
Meeting Of Italian Organic Rice Growers
This week, I drove north to Italian rice country for a meeting of “real” organic rice growers. Locally, these farmers are also called the “organic rice freaks” – i fricchettoni del riso bio.
The meeting was about a research project involving organic rice farms, two universities, public entities, and a private sector partner to understand and develop organic rice production techniques.
There was an immediate exchange and openness in discussing techniques, production challenges and their homegrown solutions, experiences with different machinery and equipment, and crop failures.
The group included a number of biodynamic farmers, which led to a discussion about the role of moon cycles in crop production.
It was a gathering in which we could talk openly and safely about techniques that fly in the face of a chemical-dependent agriculture – an agriculture that harshly judges farmers who choose to farm without them.
And it was there that for the first time I did not feel so alone in what I am trying to do.
— Ariane Lotti