Developing country deltas are important food producing areas and are home to large numbers of subsistence farmers. In particular, rice farmers dominate the populous deltas of South and Southeast Asia and face frequent climate hazards that have short- and long-term impacts on rice production and livelihoods. The aim of this study is to identify and explain proximal and ultimate factors (land access, cultural practices, and institutional support) that affect rice farmer resilience, that is, to explain why some farmers are more sensitive to climate shocks, why some farmers suffer long-term impacts from climate shocks, and what underlying “ultimate” factors reproduce this vulnerability over time. We undertake this analysis using qualitative interviews and household survey data from two districts in the Mahanadi Delta, Odisha, India. We show that climate hazards cause rice production shocks that are problematic for farmers because rice is predominantly used for household consumption in a context of unreliable off-farm income sources and a lack of insurance and credit. Our research emphasizes that “ultimate” drivers interact with the current mode of rice cultivation to reproduce a low resilience farming state. We argue that agricultural development interventions seeking to make rice farming more resilient to climate hazards should focus on boosting productivity and shock-resistance, but also be cognizant of the system within which rice farming is practiced and the contextual “ultimate” factors that reproduce vulnerability.