Monday, April 2, 2012

Circles for Rice 2012 | by Kelly Downing

As we prepare for a new growing season in the Northern Hemisphere and enter harvest season in the Southern, it's worthwhile to look back to see how far we have come in the Valley Circles for Rice project. I think it reflects what we all know about agriculture in general—lots of variability, cyclical swings and many challenges; but it is, ultimately, very rewarding.

For those of you new to our Circles for Rice project, we began working several years ago with a family farm in Brazil. Due to extreme water shortages, these rice farmers needed to find a new way to conserve water and maintain profitability. Through hard work and innovation, they were encouraged that high-yielding rice could be grown under center pivots.

At this point, I will digress a bit. Some of you may recall a 1997 movie, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, titled “The Edge.” It is a survival tale of two men in the Alaska wilderness, being stalked by a Kodiak bear. The reason I bring this up is there are two enduring phrases from the movie, which they use to remind themselves what is necessary to survive: first, “What one man can do, another man can do”; and second, “Kill the bear!” I like using this analogy because it reminds us of how we can adapt and be successful—success in one area can be adapted and repeated, and we must maintain focus on primary objectives (prioritize) to obtain that success.

At Valley Irrigation, we have been working to adapt this early work to other locations, working in areas like Brazil, the United States and Pakistan, among others. Last season was a bit of a low point, to be frank. Both weather and market conditions in the United States reduced the number of rice farmers who participated in our project, although those who did were generally successful. The relatively low market value of rice affected participation this past growing season in Brazil, as well. However, the results have once again been very encouraging.

Over the years, we have established a few general principles. First, we try to minimize the hyperbole. As Sergeant Joe Friday said, “Just the facts.” Second, from our experience, we continually observe a reasonable yield goal is on par with the yield of flooded rice. Third, we observe better profitability from center pivot rice, due to decreased production costs. Water use (i.e., pumping cost) has been recorded to be about half of flooded rice. Herbicide and fertilizer costs are very similar. Labor can be greatly reduced. Fungicide and disease management may be slightly higher, which is why we strongly recommend the use of hybrids or varieties that are strongly resistant to Blast.

So, now we find ourselves ready to begin another growing season in the Northern Hemisphere. Rice prices have been trending up a bit, and forecasts are for competing crop prices (corn, soybeans, etc.) to soften a bit by harvest. We have several cooperators set to work with us this year in the United States, as well as many interested parties in other locations, such as Africa. We are excited about what will happen in 2012! We invite you to stay in touch with us as we go through the season.