Promoting biodiversity benefits sustainable rice production

• IRTA researchers, with collaboration from Kellogg and Ebro Foods, study different measures to increase biodiversity, for the benefit of rice production and sustainability in the Ebro Delta

• The most effective measures for boosting biodiversity are the planting of yellow iris in the drainage channel and installing bat boxes to improve natural pest control

Researchers from the Institute for Research and Technology in Food and Agriculture (IRTA), with collaboration from Kellogg and Ebro Foods, have studied the management of biodiversity to benefit the rice crop and its sustainability in the Ebro Delta.

The main purpose of the study was to analyse the opportunities for measures to favour biodiversity that could at the same time be beneficial for the rice crop and its sustainability. Biodiversity is the variety of life on our planet and correct management results in policies and actions conducive to environmental protection.

The study, carried out in 2017, concludes that the measures most highly valued by the agricultural community and most effective in enhancing biodiversity were some of those promoted by Kellogg’s Origins® sustainable agriculture programme and applied by the growers in the Ebro Delta in recent years: planting yellow flag, or yellow iris, to maintain the stability of the drainage channels and increase the bat population by installing artificial roosts (bat boxes) to improve pest control.

Plant yellow iris

Water management, and maintaining an efficient drainage network, is one of the priority interests in rice production, and one of its greatest constraints is the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). This invasive species builds underground galleries that make it impossible to control the water level and cause some infrastructures to collapse. Planting yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus) helps to maintain the stability of the drainage channels, as its roots create a network that prevents the crayfish from building its galleries.

Installation of bat boxes

The striped rice stem borer (Chilo suppressalis) is an insect whose larvae tunnel into rice stems to feed on the internal tissue of the plant, causing tremendous damage. The installation of bat boxes attracts and facilitates population growth among their predators, especially bats, which act as a natural pest control.
New measures

In addition to the measures already implemented, IRTA recommends some new measures based on their initial acceptance by growers and experts. They consist in favouring adequate habitats for dragonflies to control plagues of chironomids, sowing horsetail (a wild plant with fungicidal and insecticidal properties that helps to combat fungi, aphids and red spider mites) and installing artificial perches and nest boxes to attract diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey that help to control the presence of rodents and other wild fowl.

The IRTA researchers conducted this analysis with active collaboration from growers, sector experts and environmental experts to identify the best measures for protecting biodiversity in the rice fields, while at the same time helping growers, based on agricultural, environmental, economic and social criteria.

According to Carles Ibáñez, Doctor of Biology and researcher of Aquatic Ecosystems in IRTA, who participated in this study, “this work enables us to draw up a plan to boost biodiversity, including specific habitat management and agricultural measures that will be implemented experimentally through collaboration between growers and researchers”.

The growers participating in the study are also part of Kellogg’s Origins® sustainable agriculture programme. 2017 was the fifth consecutive year of the programme and the average yield of the participating plots was 6.5% higher than the average yield in the Ebro Delta rice-growing area, added to increases of up to 19% in earlier years . Kellogg has for decades been using rice produced in Spain as the raw material for its breakfast cereals, including Choco Krispies and Special K, which are manufactured at its plant in Valls (Tarragona), from which they are exported to over 20 countries.

For Ebro Foods, world leader in the rice sector and one of the suppliers of ingredients for Kellogg, this project forms part of its commitment to the sustainability of its supply chain, since the Ebro Delta plays a major role in the group’s rice supply policy in Spain. With the results of this study, it will be possible to put new growing techniques and parameters in place that will enhance the sustainability of rice produced in the Delta and help to preserve the biodiversity of this geographical area.