Rice and Duck Farming, known in Japan as "aigamo" is a modern multispecies integrated farming system with ancient roots. For thousands of years, rice farmers in the Pacific Rim have deployed flocks of ducks into their rice fields to help control weeds and pests. However, with the advent of modern enclosure systems and the modern ability to artificially hatch large flocks of ducklings on a precise day, the ancient technique has been greatly refined. These refinements result in lower labor costs and greater benefits of weed and pest control and increased plant health and soil fertility.
Duck and Rice Farming is largely an Asian movement with the goal of protecting the environment and consumer health while improving the soil and farm viability. Boundbrook Farm is one of just a few farms in North America working with this movement. We're committed to strengthening ties with experienced practitioners in Japan like Takao Furuno and Yoshihiro Orisaka, whose generousity with their knowledge has already boosted our capabilities here in Vermont, and to helping spread understanding of this promising method around the region.
HOW DOES DUCK AND RICE FARMING WORK?
Takao Furuno extensively documents this system in his books, The Power of Duck and The One Duck Revolution. Here are some basics of rice cropping, some problems encountered and what duck-and-rice farming does to address them.
- Rice is a slow-growing plant facing competition from fast-growing weeds
This is at the heart of many of the rice farmers' difficulties. While some tropical rice matures in less time, the cool-tolerant varieties we grow in Vermont need nearly five months of growing and ripening to produce a crop. By contrast most weeds, the likes of which readily sprout and germinate in a rice paddy, can reach maturity in as little as three weeks.
Rice seedlings are grown in a protected environment and then transferred to a larger field, where the plants are spaced out considerably. This opening for weed growth persists for weeks unless somehow the weeds are controlled. Traditionally, this is done by hand hoeing or pulling, a tough job that goes on seemingly forever! In recent decades, pre-emergence herbicides have been offered as a solution but one with a cost of contamination of water resources and the poisoning of many beneficial creatures who call the paddy environment home.
The ducks present an answer to this problem so long as they are small enough, early enough, and present in enough numbers to make the required impact on the growing environment. They don't harm the rice plants because they don't eat rice leaves as they contain abrasive silica, and the ducks' small bodies don't crush or knock over the still-small and delicate plants.