Rice production in Portugal

Rice production in Portugal began to be documented in the early years of the eighteenth century. Although cultivated much earlier in the southern regions and as a legacy of the Moors, it is only from this time that there were records of this grain's presence in areas bordering the Tejo estuary.

Centuries later because of the risk of malaria, its sowing was forbidden but little by little, the initial reticence was overcome. In the nineteenth century, systematic cultivation is already referred to and also a definite and evident interest of Portuguese agriculture in rice production. Until then rice farming was considered illegal but it was tolerated. In this way, although initially covertly, rice fields began to spread into the river basins and the government began to consider the viability of rice production, gradually establishing the conditions to administer its cultivation.

At the start of the twentieth century the centres for rice production in Portugal were established. In the 1930s, rice fields increased significantly and the growing areas spread to other regions of the country.

Currently, rice is cultivated in the Beira Baixa basins, and the basins of the River Mondego (Figueira da Foz, Coimbra), the River Sado (Alcácer do Sal), in the tributaries of the River Tejo, in reservoirs in the South and in other regions on a smaller scale.

A large percentage of rice produced in Portugal belongs to the rounded grain type, is called 'Carolino' and its main varieties are 'Aríete'and 'Euro' but 'Agulha' (needle) rice, a characteristically long grain, is also produced.

In a Mediterranean climate with Atlantic influences, rice is mainly grown under irrigation. The farms are usually medium to large sized and are being heavily mechanized, although there are still small producers who continue to employ the traditional cultivation methods. The most popular method is direct sowing and the use of fertilizers and other pesticides in crop protection is widespread.

The successful production of rice in Portugal depends on three critical factors: the temperature which, when extremely low can affect the plant; the water available, which determines the surface area that can be sown and influences the possible emergence of diseases; and the amount of sunshine that the rice fields receive.

Overall in Portuguese agriculture, the present situation of rice cultivation is favourable, with production close to the EU average. Despite areas of cultivation shrinking, and the sector's technology causing some limitations, productivity is at a satisfactory level.