Efficient water use in rice cultivation is a prerequisite for sustaining food security for the rice consuming population of India. Novel rice production practices, including water-saving techniques, modifications in transplanting, spacing, weeding and nutrient management, have been developed and shown to be effective on farm, but adoption of these techniques by farmers has remained restricted. Potential constraints include technical difficulties with new practices, and labour and gender issues which differ between farms. On the basis of a rapid survey of 100 rice-based farms, four farm types were identified based on their socio-economic and biophysical characteristics. Detailed farm surveys were conducted on three representative farms of each farm type to evaluate land use patterns, use of inputs such as water, labour, nutrient, capital and machinery, income from crop and animal production and off-farm activities. Opportunities exist for one or more new rice cultivation techniques to be adopted in all the four farm types. For all farm types, however, the opportunities for use of water-saving irrigation were the least promising. In general, adoption of water-saving irrigation will not improve farmers’ livelihoods despite its importance in reducing water scarcity problems at regional scale. At farm scale, the potential for adoption of water-saving irrigation depends on the season, location of fields and the irrigation source. Changes in government policies such as rules and regulations, pricing, institution building and infrastructure development, as well as training and education of farmers are needed to improve the adoption of modified methods for rice cultivation.