Friday, March 16, 2012

Comments on Texas Article and 2012 Rice Project | by Kelly Downing

Comments on 'Low Water Levels' Article

I just read the article about Texas rice producers losing their surface water supply for 2012 (see "Texas Rice Farmers Lose Their Water "). I first heard that this might happen last fall, at the Texas Plant Protection Conference, when one speaker predicted that Texas, USA, might lose half or more of their rice acreage this year. Living in Nebraska, USA, where most areas just emerged a couple of years ago from a severe, multi-year drought, I can certainly sympathize with the growers there.

Coincidentally, I spent the past couple of weeks in Brazil, particularly Rio Grande do Sul. They are beginning their rice harvest, having about 15% finished when I left. That area, too, experienced a drought this growing season. Fortunately, irrigation helped salvage yields in many crops, including soybeans, corn and rice. As a result, losses due to drought were less than predicted. In an area where pivots have not been common, there is increasing interest in this technology.

But, back to Texas. I think we are all just a little more skittish about weather patterns like this than we were, perhaps 15 – 20 years ago. We have heard enough talk from reasonable people to at least wonder if perhaps something serious, and permanent, is happening. Frankly, that is one of the reasons I enjoy working on the Circles for Rice project.

Moving Forward with Circles for Rice Project in 2012

We are not, frankly, out to convert everybody from flood rice to pivot rice. We recognize that for most growers, the water supply is stable, reliable and adequate for your needs now and in the foreseeable future. What we ARE doing however, is verifying the validity of this cropping practice. We are simply building the body of knowledge for this crop culture, so that when someone decides that he/she wants or needs to investigate the option, there is solid knowledge, based on years of research and practical experience, available to use.

Let’s face it—the worst drought in at least 50 years is enough to give anybody pause, even if you think your water supply is inexhaustible. Through our work with researchers to understand the basic science, we aim to help establish Best Management Practices (BMP) and realistic goals for growing rice under pivots. As we cooperate with rice producers, we want to continue to transfer this knowledge from small-plot, statistically-verified research fields to the more practical arena of the “real world” of modern farmers. And, through our work with the industry to add this practice to the list of those accepted and covered by crop insurance companies, we will help establish pivot-irrigation of rice as a reasonable, valid, legitimate practice.

This means that, whether a previously-reliable water supply begins to degrade, or a rice producer needs to expand his operation into soils or areas not suited to flooded rice production, or a farmer new to the industry decides to add rice to his rotation to increase profit, battle weed resistance or replace another crop that has become unprofitable, there is at least one more option available to help him succeed.

I am excited about the opportunities we have for 2012. As the season progresses, we will share how things are going, and report our successes and failures, including harvest information. I wish you all a great growing season.