Revolutionizing the cultivation of rice

Sowing the Seeds of Progress and Prosperity while Protecting the Planet

Direct-Seeded Rice banner image

Rice feeds over half the world’s population and approximately 80 percent of the crop is grown using a traditional practice that is land-, water-, energy- and labor-intensive. But our teams are working diligently to develop and deploy a better way to cultivate rice that reduces the reliance on these resources, improves farmers’ incomes and protects their quality of life.

To feed a rising global population and keep prices stable, it’s estimated that rice production will need to increase by 25 percent by 2050. Added to this, another 10 percent will be needed to make up for reduced yield due to rising temperatures, an effect of climate change.


Most farmers in India – a country that supplies 40 percent of the global export market, and indeed across the other major rice-growing nations in Asia – still use a system whereby seedlings are transplanted into flooded paddy fields. Smallholder farmers, who feed much of the developing world, suffer the rising costs of scare resources and the effects of climate change. These farmers need a better option.

Pressure on Farmers

Socio-economic challenges like rapid urbanization in developing countries, disruption to supply chains, the current energy crises, and labor shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, are all putting pressure on rice farmers and the global rice supply.


And when it comes to climate change, rice is both threatened by rising temperatures, and – as a crop responsible for 12 percent of the world’s methane emissions – is a notable contributor to climate change. 

What is direct seeded rice?

Direct seeded rice can be sown directly into the field and is able to grow without the need for standing water.


Rather than transplanting young rice seedlings from nurseries into flooded paddies by hand, growers can bring modern farming equipment – land-levelers, sowing and harvesting machinery, for example – into the fields to plant and care for the crop. 


The environmental benefits are immediately evident. This approach uses much less water — up to 40 percent less — and that’s crucial in a world (and a region) where droughts are increasing and rainfall is becoming increasingly more erratic.


And removing the need for standing water – in which bacteria that generate the methane thrive - means a direct seeded system has the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions by up to 45 percent - a move in the right direction in the fight against climate change. 


But there are economic benefits, too. A direct seeded rice system has the potential to create labor savings of up to 50 percent by removing processes and introducing mechanization at almost every step of cultivation. Importantly, it alleviates the back-breaking work of seedling transplantation, often performed by women. 


According to our estimates, a system centered on direct seeded rice shows on average 16 percent lower costs, coupled with equal or higher yields. 


And additional revenue streams from carbon offsets, incentives from food chain partners, and financial and government institutions all hold the potential to create additional value pools for these responsible practices.

Digital System Solutions

FarmRise, a smart app that provides smallholder farmers with market insights, weather information, and agronomic advice, will in the near future be used to connect farmers to distributors of inputs, as well to providers of machinery needed for land-leveling, sowing, harvesting, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide improved on-farm product stewardship through automized precision spraying.  This future access to machinery and technology is being made possible through a number of channels, including equipped neighboring or nearby farmers, via BetterLife Farming centers, state-funded or privately established service providers. 


Due to the removal of standing water – which in the transplanted system controls weed growth – farmers need immediate answers to questions about the types of weeds, the availability of effective, affordable and sustainable crop protection products, as well as information about spray timing and application rates. Currently provided by our agronomic experts, over time weed identification and treatment advice as well as seed and plant establishment management will become automated in FarmRise, as well as offering pest recognition capabilities and recommendations based on artificial intelligence.


As direct seeded rice cultivation scales up, geo-tagged information such as weather data, soil data, historic weed-flora data and predictive models will be offered to empower farmers to make better agronomic decisions about weed, pest, water and nutrient management.

The Work on the Ground, and in the Ground

We have a vision for the millions of farming families that supply the world with rice: lower costs and therefore higher incomes and improved quality of life, a reduced impact on the environment, and increased food security for our growing world.


We’re making this vision a reality right now through our DirectAcres program, which was recently launched in India. Today there are approximately 10,000 farmers participating, but by 2030 we expect to help 2 million growers across 1 million hectares succeed in this better way of growing rice.

We're Planting Potential

There is huge potential to realize these benefits at scale. We estimate that three quarters of Indian rice farmers will shift to direct seeded rice by 2040. 


Our leadership and expertise in seeds and traits, crop protection and digital farming solutions as well as the importance we give to building partnerships with those in the industry and beyond that share our vision, paves the way for this oncoming and necessary progression in rice farming.


And finally, this work drives our Crop Science Sustainability Commitments 2030 and gets us one step closer to fulfilling our mission of Health for All, Hunger for None. 


A look at some of our Crop Science sustainability commitments:

Rice harvest