A recent article in the Mid-America Farm Grower discussed a presentation given by Dr. Jason Krutz at the National Conservation Systems Cotton & Rice Conference. Dr. Krutz explained, “The biggest threat to irrigated agriculture in the mid-South is aquifer depletion.” He went on to discuss several water-saving techniques, all based around traditional flood irrigation methods. But there is another irrigation option for rice producers, one that may increase their profits while conserving water – center pivot irrigation.
Back in 2006, I would have probably said it was crazy to consider using a center pivot for rice production. Historically, it had been attempted, but generally ended in failure. However, in a recent, multi-year research project, researchers were able to successfully demonstrate profitability by producing rice under center pivots in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina. This was accomplished by adjusting rice farming equipment and crop inputs, as well as utilizing ag services and irrigation management tools.
With Valley® center pivots, growers could cut the amount of water pumped by 40-50%, while still achieving similar yields to flood irrigation. In addition, fertilizer, particularly nitrogen and crop production products like fungicides, could be applied through the center pivot, saving the costs of aerial applications.
Though there are many factors that need to be considered when choosing the right irrigation for your crop, these tips may help you to better understand if center pivot or linear irrigation is right for you.
Review Your Situation
If you have a field with production that’s dropped, or it has varying soils types that make it difficult to flood, you may be a good fit for a center pivot. You may reduce pumping amounts and costs, decrease labor requirements, and minimize the need for additional land leveling. In addition, having the ability to properly water all the soil and topography variations under the center pivot may increase profits.
Plan your Inputs
Just having a center pivot will not guarantee increased profits. You will need to ensure that you use proper crop inputs, ag services and irrigation management. Seed selection, herbicides, fertilizer and fungicides all need to be considered to provide an integrated solution that will help to maximize the field’s profitability. Center pivots are a great tool to activate pre-emergence herbicides; rather than waiting for rain or trying to manually incorporate them with rice farm equipment, they can be applied directly through the pivot.
Apply Less Water with Remote Irrigation Management
With center pivots, irrigation management will be different than with flood irrigation management. You will apply less water more often, particularly during tillering. The small tillers need to be kept moist, meaning you will apply a light application of water once a day. This may be 0.20 to 0.30 inches per day. As the crop canopy closes, the frequency and amount you irrigate will be adjusted to meet the field and climatic conditions. Another benefit of center pivot irrigation is the ease of remote management. With remote management ag services, such as BaseStation3™ and AgSense®, you can monitor and control your center pivot with a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Applying Only What is Needed
You can apply inputs, like nitrogen, based on the crop needs. A center pivot allows you to spoon-feed the crop at a fraction of the application cost of using a plane or land-based application. Certain classes of fungicides and insecticides may be applied through the center pivot.
Since you are controlling the moisture content below field capacity, you may need to apply water later in the season than what you are used to. As harvest approaches, please watch the moisture content of the rice closely; when using center pivots, the grain tends to dry down much quicker.
Make Your Final Decision
If you currently have unlimited water, and costs associated with labor, pumping and aerial applications are not a concern for you, then your current production system may fit you well. However, if you face struggles in these areas on a regular basis, you may want to consider a change in your rice production system. Consider the benefits a Valley center pivot could bring your operation.
Contact your local Valley dealer to learn more about converting your rice irrigation or read more here.
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