Friday, September 7, 2012

Road Trip | by Kelly Downing

It has been a few weeks since I checked in, so I guess I owe you all a little update. When last we “spoke,” I was planning a visit from two rice researchers from Brazil. The Embrapa researchers arrived in Memphis, TN, on Sunday, August 19. We began our “rice road trip” (after the obligatory pilgrimage to Graceland) at the University of Arkansas’ Rice Research & Extension Center at Stuttgart. There were excellent conversations with both University of Arkansas and USDA (Dale Bumpers Rice Research facility) professionals.

I really enjoyed the entire trip, and this stop was a great example of why. I almost always learn a lot whenever I can manage, and it was a great opportunity to catch some morsels of knowledge as they flew by.

Of course, there were a lot of discussions about traditional rice production methods and problems common to all areas - especially weed control and resistance issues. Of course, with my particular interest, I was very interested in the discussions with the Brazilian researchers regarding the effects of pivot-irrigated rice. Early research indicates that rice grown in unsaturated conditions contains significantly lower amounts of arsenic than flooded rice. I was also fascinated by the research being done by Embrapa on the production of greenhouse gases under the two systems. It seems to me that pivot-grown rice should show a significant advantage in this area, so we will watch these studies in the future.

From there we moved on to the RiceTec facility at Harrisburg, AR, and spent some time with Greg Simpson. Greg is a great person and a very knowledgeable rice guy. Our guests really enjoyed getting to know him (and his wonderful family) and see the operation. Greg is also able, due to his breadth of experience, to discuss common practices and problems in a wide range of conditions and situations.

We visited the rice field of Jeremy Baltz, near Pocahontas, AR. Jeremy had some good-looking rice - almost ready to harvest! This is a shot of the Embrapa visitors at the field:

Embrapa visitors at rice field

Of course, we spent some time with our cooperator Dennis Robison (since he was available), who was still irrigating. Most of his field looks pretty mature, but he is trying to finish up some spots that were not quite ready. One little advantage of pivot rice is he can do this right up to harvest in order to maximize yield and still maintain decent field conditions for harvest. Here is a photo of them with Dennis:

Embrapa visitors with Dennis Robison

We also got the chance to visit a couple of family rice farms and managed to attend the University of Missouri Rice Field Day at the rice research facility near Glennonville. They really do a great job supporting rice producers there, both with this facility and at the Delta Center in Portageville. The presentations were excellent and, unfortunately for my diet, so was the lunch!

We saved the Delta Center for our last professional stop, and had a great meeting with the staff there, including Agronomist Gene Stevens, Engineers Earl Vories and Joe Henggler, and David Dunn, director of the soil analysis lab. The Brazilians gave a brief presentation on the work they are doing, and the Delta Center staff reciprocated. Again, it was a good opportunity for me to learn. 

After this intense week, our friends were scheduled to leave from St. Louis, MO, on Sunday, August 26. We were able to spend a good day there Saturday, visiting “The Arch” and the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It was a real thrill for them to get to the top of the Arch, and it capped off what they classified as an extremely productive, valuable week.

Sometimes, especially in busy times, we tend to think of projects like this as a bother or a distraction. However, seeing how much they valued the opportunity to interact with their U.S. peers and other rice professionals, I was reminded of how valuable this type of exchange can be. It was impossible not to see how much these guests gained personally from the relationships they formed with U.S. researchers, growers, and industry professionals. I assume that there were also some benefits to their hosts—I know I benefitted immensely.

As we enter the heart of the harvest season, I wish you a bountiful crop and safe operations. Let’s talk again soon.