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Through a partnership with Regrow Ag, precision-agriculture business Netafim is
helping rice farmers worldwide to seamlessly adopt climate-smart farming
Rice is one of the world's most popular staple crops: Over 50 percent of
the world relies on it for
nourishment, and it provides 20 percent of the
world’s calorie intake. However, rice production poses significant environmental
challenges due to its resource-intensive cultivation practices and growing
global demand. One of the primary environmental concerns is its heavy water
— rice is predominantly grown in flooded paddies, accounting for roughly 40
of the world's irrigation water usage. And the flooded fields release
a potent greenhouse gas, during the decomposition of organic matter — further
contributing to climate change. It's estimated that rice cultivation is
responsible for approximately 10 percent of global methane
“Rice is probably the most important crop for humans, consumed almost
everywhere, with billions of people relying on it. But we also know it's one of
the largest polluters in greenhouse gas emissions and uses huge amounts of
freshwater for irrigation,” Max
Moldavsky, Director of Innovation and
Climate Solutions at Netafim, tells Sustainable
Netafim — a precision-agriculture business owned by
Orbia, a global leader in irrigation solutions for
sustainable agriculture — has introduced precision-irrigation technologies
tailored to rice cultivation — such as drip-irrigation systems that dramatically
reduce water consumption, compared to traditional flooded paddies. By delivering
water and nutrients directly to the roots of rice plants, Netafim's systems
increase water efficiency, minimize water wastage, and significantly lower the
environmental impact of rice farming.
“Netafim has been a pioneer of drip irrigation for almost 60 years now; and we
took it upon ourselves to bring a revolution to rice production,” Moldavsky
says. “It has taken many years, trials, adaptations of products and agronomical
protocols; but in the end, we can grow rice under drip irrigation. And the
impact of this transition is immense — we eliminate almost 100 percent of the
methane emissions, and cut water usage by 70 percent, compared to traditional
Netafim recognizes the challenges faced by rice farmers in adopting advanced
irrigation methods. These methods — while highly effective — require investment,
which can pose difficulties for rice farmers and smallholders. Moreover, there
can be a perceived complexity in transitioning to drip irrigation — especially
when compared to traditional methods.
To address these challenges, Netafim not only provides agronomic guidance and
support to farmers but also seeks innovative solutions on the financial front.
This commitment has led to Netafim’s mission to assist farmers in securing
carbon credits for their adoption of climate-smart rice cultivation practices.
The availability of data is pivotal for this, as it quantifies and verifies the
reduction in methane emissions associated with these practices — thereby
attracting the necessary investment and incentivizing sustainable rice farming
for both environmental and financial benefits.
Netafim and Regrow Ag — a leading agricultural MRV
(Measurement, Reporting, and Verification) software provider — have been
partnering since 2020, developing innovative agronomic decision-support tools to
make a range of agricultural systems more resource efficient and resilient. Most
recently, Netafim and Regrow expanded their partnership to drip-irrigation-based
Regrow Ag uses remote-sensing technology and environmental modeling to scale
climate-smart rice production. Together, they kicked off a pilot project at
La Fagiana farm in Venice,
Italy — where they measured and verified the environmental impact of
traditional rice-production methods compared to Netafim's drip-irrigation system.
Understanding the impact of various rice practices requires a deep understanding
of nutrient cycling in agricultural soils. Changing a single practice in rice
paddy soils can impact both methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions — each of
these having a different effect on our environment. Therefore, it’s essential to
understand the impacts of adopting new practices from multiple angles.
For example, we know that drip irrigation can significantly reduce methane
emissions. However, we also need to pay attention to the impact of this practice
on N2O emissions, and apply fitting fertilization protocols to ensure N20
emissions are reduced as well.
Regrow gives its exclusive commercial rights to
DNDC — an industry-leading environmental model
that estimates nutrient cycling in soils to model the interactions between
irrigation practices and methane / N2O emissions, which enables full GHG
accounting and allows Regrow to optimize emissions reduction for both methane
and N2O. This environmental model is essential for programs such as Netafim’s to
The Netafim and Regrow teams are now approaching the final stages of the pilot —
preparing to submit it to carbon-offset verifier
Verra to secure carbon
“This milestone is pivotal in expanding the adoption of drip-irrigation
practices around the world — making rice cultivation more sustainable and
financially viable. This is the first project ever that generates carbon credits
for farmers through the adoption of drip-irrigation methods. So, this is a
unique achievement both for Netafim and Regrow,” Moldavsky explains. “Moving one
hectare of rice from flood to drip irrigation is like removing 2.5 cars from the
road. We have more than 140 million hectares of rice around the world — just
imagine the impact that can have.”
Rice production's supply chain has previously lacked traceability — with
irrigation methods, water usage and methane emissions unknown. However, with
Regrow’s support, rice traceability has significantly improved: Moldavsky says
every hectare of rice enrolled in this pilot can now be fully traced and the
growing practices verified — so, food companies, retailers and consumers can
confidently ascertain that the rice is sustainably produced.
“Rice production accounts for a significant percentage of global methane
emissions,” said Regrow co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Bill
partnership with Netafim continues to expand and promote resilience in
while ultimately supporting Paris Agreement goals.”
Moldavsky explains that many farmers are less likely to adopt climate-smart
programs without substantial support from companies such as Netafim. Adopting a
completely new irrigation system, enrolling in carbon-credit
and adapting to new ways of data collection may not be possible for them without
the support of a solid MRV system. Netafim, therefore, aims to assist them with
the tasks that fall outside their core business.
“It’s been a long journey; but now, I'm really happy to say that we are about to
scale up to a fully operational commercial solution. In Italy, farmers are
already able to sign up to the program for the next season of rice cultivation,
which will start in April 2024,” Moldavsky says.
In recent years, increasing droughts linked to climate change have posed a
significant challenge to traditionally water-intensive rice cultivation. Italy,
Europe's top rice producer, has experienced a reduction in rice
over the past two years due to water shortages — leading to abandoned fields and
economic losses. India, another major rice producer, has also faced
climate-related droughts — prompting the Indian government to ban non-basmati
impacting importing nations.
Transitioning to drip irrigation offers a sustainable solution by providing
consistent water access for rice fields, mitigating the impact of unpredictable
weather patterns — a shift that not only ensures stable yields but also reduces
greenhouse gas emissions.
“I hope that very soon we will see many more farmers using climate-smart
practices globally — helping us, themselves and life around the world,”
Moldavsky explains. “Our plan with Regrow is to continue to grow together, go to
new geographies, new crops — any crop that can adopt drip-irrigation systems —
and to be the driver for change, reducing emissions and water consumption, and
improving the livelihood of farmers and communities.”
Published Jan 9, 2024 8am EST / 5am PST / 1pm GMT / 2pm CET
Scarlett Buckley is a London-based freelance sustainability writer with an MSc in Creative Arts & Mental Health.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.