3rd Grade - Science

LESSON PROBLEM: Ecology: What do rice farmers do with rice straw that is left in the field after harvest?


U.S. rice farmers are a great help in the annual migration of millions of ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl. After harvest, rice fields provide these migratory birds with wintertime food and a home. Rice fields provide them with insects, seeds, roots and other foods. This helps keep a bird population that might not be able to live without it.

During harvest, only the rice grain is taken from the field. The straw is left in the fields. Before the next crop, rice farmers want no straw in the fields.

When the rice is ripe, it is harvested using a combine. A combine is a harvesting machine that cuts the rice stalk and strips the rice grain from the plant. The grain is separated from the plant during harvest.

After harvest, some rice grains and about three tons of rice straw are left on each acre of rice field. The rice straw has to be removed before the next crop of rice is planted. For many years some farmers burned the straw. The smoke polluted the air. Rice farmers wanted to use a way to remove the rice straw that did not use burning. A solution was provided in helping migratory birds.

Rice farmers have found ways to use their fields before spring planting to help migratory waterfowl. Rice fields are flooded from November through February. This is a time when fields are not planted and the birds come south for the winter. The water helps to break down the rice straw. The migrating ducks and geese come to the rice fields for food and a winter home. While looking for the rice grains left after harvest, the birds crush the rice straw. This helps break down the rice straw so it will decompose.

Rice is a special food crop because it provides a wildlife habitat for migrating birds. U.S. rice farms are home to many species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

Rice fields are home to millions of ducks and geese on their annual migration along the Pacific and Mississippi Flyways. No other crop comes close to giving this much benefit to such a large variety of wildlife. Rice farms in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas provide millions of acres of wetland habitat each year to our migratory friends. Rice farmers throughout the United States work hard to grow rice and to give a home to wildlife.


Draw a picture that shows how rice fields help migrating birds.


List the ways rice farmers help migrating birds.


  • migration
  • waterfowl
  • population
  • combine
  • thresh
  • polluted
  • species
  • benefit
  • variety
  • habitat
  • decompose

Click here to play Rice Rampage!
The Milling Process for Rice:
Getting rice from the field to you takes
a few more steps. Click here to see a video & learn more about the rice milling process.
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