The Spill’s Effect on Rice Growing

The Mississippi delta was one of the areas affected by the British Petroleum oil spill. Many livelihoods were affected. As well, much marine life — including bird and mammal life — was killed. But was agriculture and in particular rice growing harmed by the catastrophe? Many people farm rice in the delta, and many people enjoy eating delta-grown rice as it is often an important part of Cajun cuisine. So, lovers of local rice and farmers whose livelihood partly depends on rice-growing are both happy to know that the spill didn’t penetrate far enough up the delta to cause problems with rice growing.

The Mississippi state university has a website that keeps track of rice production in the Mississippi delta area. Their stats show that though there has been a dip in production due to other causes the production has been recovering. Rice grows in fresh water and since the sea water contaminated by the spill would harm rice crops even if it was uncontaminated crops are kept well away from the coastline. Interestingly, there are traditional and modern rice types that are salt tolerant, something near-coastal rice farmers might want to know about if delta rice production takes off in the future.

There was also a massive amount of air pollution from burning of the spill and so on, but even with that crops in 2010 remained largely unaffected.

More of a threat to Delta agricultural practices, in general, is the unsustainable rate of water usage. You’d think the Mississippi River is almost infinite in its ability to produce water for crops, but the aquifer in the area is decreasing dramatically. Even with constantly improving water conservation practices among farmers – such as better plot leveling, earlier maturing rice varieties, and better weed management – the rate of increase in water usage combined with changed weather due to global warming means something will have to give. Either agricultural policy or better water conservation technology or some unknown mix of various factors will be required to maintain production at present levels.

To end on a positive note let’s talk about enjoying our home-grown southern rice – it is great to eat our local foods when possible. As I mentioned before Cajun food can be quite spicy. Meals are often prepared using a decent pressure cooker (like the ones at ricecookergoodness.com) to speed up the cooking time (better to stay away from some of the older ones). And as southern food is hot it is important to have something to soak up the sometimes intense spiciness between bites. Check out a few recipes gathered here that go beautifully with a side of rice:

Cajun 15-Bean Soup – an extremely nutritious and vegan recipe if you are a lover of spicy but meatless food.

Red Beans and Rice – a very simple and very healthy recipe. There are endless variations of this staple. Man can live on beans and rice alone — okay, but maybe not happily.

Vegan Gumbo – vegan anything is kind of sacrilege to many a southerner but they just may be converted by this tasty variation.

All three of these recipes can be done in a regular cooking pot or — much faster — in a pressure cooker.