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May 25, 2018

Maine rice production growing, more farms needed to meet demand

Demand for Maine-grown rice is outpacing supply, resulting in a search for new sites to grow the grain.

The Bangor Daily News reported that Ben Rooney, from Benton rice producer Wild Folk Farm, helped start the nonprofit Maine Rice Project, with the goal of getting more people to grow and eat sustainably grown rice and grain throughout Maine.

According to a news release on the company's website, the Maine Rice Project recently received a grant from the Maine Technology Institute to expand Wild Folk's rice-growing operation and is currently looking for new sites for expansion.

"For the past five years we have grown rice at Wild Folk Farm in Benton," the release says. "During that time we have shown that rice can be grown in Maine, and that there is a market for it. We have expanded from one small experimental rice paddy, to two-thirds of an acre in rice paddy cultivation, producing 3,000 pounds of rice annually. We have learned a lot, and at this point demand for our rice is surpassing what we can supply at our farm."

The plan is to search this summer for new locations on which to build a bigger, better rice paddy system, the release says.

"We are looking to partner with existing farms interested in incorporating rice paddies into their farm operations and/or leasing land to grow rice," the release says. "The rice paddy system we are planning to build will be in the range of 1 to 4 acres, and site work is expected to begin spring of 2019."

One of the advantages of growing rice in Maine, the release says, is that rice paddies work best in poorly drained, clay rich soil, which Maine has in abundance.

Writing for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in 2016, Wild Folk Farm Manager and Maine Rice Project Director Ben Rooney said the operation began in 2013 with a short-grain brown rice from Hokkaido, Japan, which has a climate similar to that of central Maine, and evolved to growing long, medium, short, sweet, risotto, red and brown varieties from three continents. In good paddy conditions, one pound of rice seed can yield 100 pounds or more.

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