On June 29th, Lopes Family Farms hosted a field day with Community Alliance with Family Farms (CAFF) in Princeton, CA focused on rice and duck farming, a Biologically Integrated Farming System (BIFS). Attendees were welcomed by father and son owners, Bruce and Christopher Lopes, along with a brood of baby ducklings.
Lopes (aka the self-described farm’s “Chief Visionary Officer”) framed the field day by talking about the many challenges he has faced as a small-scale, 4th generation farmer including drought, post-harvest processing, market streams, and transitioning into organic rice. However, with ingenuity and creativity, Christopher set out to reinvent the farm’s way of producing organic rice by transforming their farm to a niche system that provides a value-added product to their farm. This system of integrating ducks into rice farming has been effectively used in Asian countries for hundreds of centuries.
Christopher and Bruce Lopes tagteamed in compelling storytelling- Christopher provided background on the origin of rice and duck farming while Bruce added heartfelt descriptions of their trial and errors in figuring out how to integrate ducks into their farming system. Both father and son added a playful mix of duck-inspired humor, describing how they have to sometimes wake up at the “quack of dawn”, the sound on their farm is duck ASMR, and using “trojan ducks” to find advocates to help them sell.
Chirping and chasing each other in an enclosure, the ducklings near an adjacent rice paddy field were a highlight for all to enjoy. Attendees had many questions about duck management, including, types of ducks used in the integration (primarily Muscovy with some white Duclair and Pekins this year), duration of integration (until 90 days before harvest for food safety reasons), density of ducks used per acre (50 ducks per acre but typically 80-100 per acre are recommended), and processing of ducks (at Grimaud Farms in Stockton).
The Lopes spoke on the co-benefits of integrating ducks into a rice farming system by detailing the reduction of water use (two-thirds less water use than conventional rice systems), the addition of natural fertilizer, the increased durability of the rice stems, and the reduction of pests both insects and competitive weeds they have experienced using this system. Additionally, being such a novel method of farming in the U.S., the Lopes provided a great demonstration of the unique equipment involved in the establishment of the rice (rice flat tray machine) and the transplanter machine (used to mechanically transplant the rice plugs into the field) allowing the attendees a great visual of the process and commitment involved in establishing their rice paddy fields. Being pioneers in this method, they also touched on the challenges that were met both from the inexperience in this process and the lack of infrastructure needed to make this kind of farming more streamlined.
After discussing their trials and tribulations, exposing their need for value-added infrastructure, Claire Tauber provided opportune information of farm-to-market opportunities for growers, particularly farm to school opportunities. Claire talked about the process of getting started in selling products to school districts and the importance of marketing your unique ecological story. Some considerations to make when trying to sell your products to schools are: they often want products with low prep time that they can make using basic appliances (eg. microwaves), it is very important to be very responsive, having third-party food safety certification isn’t required but clear food safety practice documentation is needed, and schools value farms willing to also put in effort to educate their students (eg. hosting school trips). One idea is to look at the cafeteria menu for the school to assess whether you can provide any of those products.For more information, read about farm to school sales in the CAFF Farm 2 School Blog post.
The field day at Lopes Family Farm allowed all attendees to consider and discuss innovative rice farming ecological practices and how to create market opportunities for these practices. For more information on Lopes Family Farm follow them at Lopes Family Farms.
*All photos provided for this post where produced by Nolan Kirby*