Irrigation: Pivot Power

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As part of its program to promote precision agricultural practices, Valley, NE-based Valley Irrigation is working with several rice growers in the Southern U.S. to increase their yields while curbing their costs.

Throughout the 2010 growing season, the company collected data on traditional and non-traditional rice fields and recorded cost-savings that rice producers have experienced with center pivot irrigation vs. flood. Overall, Valley Irrigation found a grower that produces rice with a center pivot can still be 5% more profitable, even with a slightly lower yield, than if he had flooded his field.

• Chart: Cost Savings Of Producing Rice With Center Pivot Irrigation

For example, a production ag rice field located near Sikeston, MO, yielded a dry weight of 195 bushels per acre of a RiceTec hybrid. This field, farmed by Patrick Hulshof, has predominately sandy loam soils and is irrigated with a 7-span Valley Center Pivot. Though this field is located in a traditional rice growing area of the country, the field’s sandy soils cannot maintain a flood.

“This is our first experience with rice,” says Hulshof. “We had no more work in this field than we did in the corn field. We ran the pivot more, but I don’t think we put out more water than what a 200-plus bushel corn crop requires.”

Another example comes from rice grower Dennis Robison. He produces rice in both Missouri and Arkansas. While the majority of his fields are well-suited for flood irrigation, one field has sandy soil and hilly terrain, which previously made it impossible to produce rice. By using a Valley Center Pivot to grow a RiceTec hybrid on this field, Robison produced a dry weight yield of 185 bushels per acre.

“We didn’t have any trouble with weeds. We did our normal herbicide treatment that we do on all of our flooded rice fields,” says Robison. “It turned out very well, better than I expected.”

Providing A Savings

Though a rice producer may use more pesticides and herbicides with a center pivot, according to the company, the fertilizer costs remain the same as with a flooded field. Because a rice field irrigated with a center pivot does not need to be flat, and crop protection products can be applied through the irrigation machine, growers may see a 75% or more difference in labor costs, and a 50% or more difference in maintenance costs. Compared with a flooded field, fuel costs are also lower for rice produced with a center pivot due to a significantly smaller volume of water that is pumped throughout the growing season.

Valley Irrigation is currently working with several organizations and universities on this project, including RiceTec, the University of Missouri Delta Research Center, the University of Arkansas, Agricenter International, Embrapa and Irga.

McEvoy is account supervisor, public relations, for Rhea + Kaiser, Naperville, IL.

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