3rd Grade - Social Studies

LESSON PROBLEM: Geography: How do Louisiana rice farmers help the environment after they harvest rice?


Louisiana faces the Gulf of Mexico to its south. The mighty Mississippi River is to the east and cuts through the southern part of the state. The Mississippi empties into the Gulf Coastal Plain. The area is divided into the East Gulf Coastal Plain, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Louisiana is a state that has long existed around water. The state has several other important rivers as well.

Rice first came to Louisiana in 1718. When ships carrying African slaves arrived, they also brought barrels of rice seed. The slaves could grow their own food. Soon rice became an important food for the entire Louisiana colony. The Africans used a method of scattering and sowing the rice. They depended on rainfall to keep the fields wet. The method was well-adapted to Louisiana.

Rice farmers planted rice at the lower edge of the natural levees created in the Coastal Plain. The back slope held the water from spring floods. The rice fields got enough water for the rice. The rice was then harvested during the dry period of late summer and fall.

A larger Louisiana rice industry grew up along the Mississippi River with elaborate river-irrigation systems in the later 1800s. After the Civil War, Louisiana began to grow rice in large quantities. The market for rice was good. There was new farm machinery and railroad extensions. The Louisiana prairies were ideal for large rice farms.

In the late 1870’s, a land and timber company bought most of the old Louisiana prairie lands. They wanted to use it for something besides pastures. They hired an expert to find other uses for the prairie land. The expert discovered that the prairie was perfect for growing rice.

Large numbers of people from the Middle West began arriving in Louisiana. They knew how to use grain-harvesting machines. They bought many acres of land and developed them into rice farms.

Louisiana is one of the six major rice producing states in the United States. It is the third largest rice growing state in the nation. The number of acres planted in rice for the year 2000 was 495,000 acres. Each acre produced 4,980 pounds of rice! The other five rice producing states are Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Rice farming is an important part of the crawfish industry in Louisiana. Crawfish are freshwater cousins of the lobster. They can be found in streams and ponds. Wherever land is naturally wet or has been flooded by man, this animal can usually survive. In Louisiana the science of aquaculture has increased the production of crawfish. Louisiana has identified 32 different species. The crawfish have a natural liking for rice fields. Both crawfish and rice like wet habitats. Crawfish have always been found in rice fields.

Louisiana rice farmers set up a rotation schedule for crawfish and rice in the early 1950s. In the rice-crawfish rotation, the rice stubble left after harvest provides food for the many invertebrates, including the crawfish, to eat. This helps the ecology of the area and is a smart way to use the rice fields.

The rice fields are also helping nature's wildlife. Louisiana, like other areas of the country, is losing natural wetlands. This is because of erosion from the Gulf of Mexico coastline and development. The rice fields are taking the place of the lost natural wetlands. They are important to the life of local and migrating birds and animals. The number of ibis in the area has increased because of rice field wetlands.


On a map of United States, locate Louisiana.

Using a map of Louisiana, locate:

- East Gulf Coastal Plain
- The Mississippi Alluvial Plain
- The West Gulf Coastal Plain

Also locate on this map the following rivers:

- The Mississippi River
- The Red River
- The Ouachita River
- The Sabine River
- The Pearl River


Create a timeline that shows the growth of rice farming in Louisiana. Draw pictures to show each time period.


  • alluvial
  • levee
  • irigation
  • extensions
  • crawfish
  • rotation
  • stubble
  • ibis

Click here to play Rice Rampage!
Anatomy of Rice:
Rice is a seed of cereal (grass) plant used for food. Click here to learn more about the Anatomy of Rice.
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