Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Circles for Rice Update | by Kelly Downing

In the Northern Hemisphere, spring is here and rice is in (and out of) the ground! We have been waiting and preparing all winter for the new crop; now, finally, we get to start growing again. I have to admit, I prefer autumn, with the harvest and sense of completion and accomplishment it brings. However, it is really nice, after a long winter, to get into the field and get the new crop going.

This year, Valley Irrigation has a total of five cooperators in three states: Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas.

In the Missouri and Arkansas areas, much of the new rice crop has been planted, and is now emerging, while planting moves north. This week, we will begin installing soil monitoring instrumentation into the rice fields of our cooperators. Dennis Robison and Chad Price farm right along the Missouri/Arkansas state line; they got into the fields early and their rice is up and growing. Both are “old hands” at this process—Dennis grew rice under his Valley center pivot in 2010, and Chad did it last year. Both produced excellent results, and are primed for another good crop this year. This week, we will install soil water sensors in their fields, which will be used to schedule irrigation. Other growers will be added to the system as they get their crop up and growing.

Soil Moisture Monitors | installed on a rice field
This is one way we increase our knowledge of the process—we monitor soil water status of rice under pivots in several fields each summer. This helps us fine-tune our irrigation recommendations. It is a great management practice for any irrigator to use, but is especially critical with rice, due to the shallow root zone and resulting small margin for error.

We all have biases, and one of mine is toward data-based irrigation management. Estimating evapotranspiration (ET), or crop water use, and using sensors to verify this information is critical for effective, efficient irrigation. Effective irrigation means making sure the crop gets all the water it needs to maximize production. Efficient irrigation means using the least possible resources (water, energy, labor) to accomplish this. Using ET data helps calculate when, and how much, to water the crop. Since these are estimates, we also recommend using sensors to periodically verify that, over time, the estimates are correct.

So, the (generally) warm spring has given most producers the chance to finish field operations in a timely manner, so planting and other activities seem to be proceeding at a pretty optimum pace. I hope you have a safe, enjoyable spring, and I look forward to sharing our progress with you as we work through the summer. Check back and let us know what is going on in your part of the world.