Rice Farming

Gen 4 Farms

Innovative irrigation and precision ag
promote efficiency, bump up bottom line

By Carroll Smith

A Mississippi farmer who hails from the south end of Coahoma County, J.D. Dulaney, describes himself as “the first one to jump on the guinea pig bandwagon when it comes to trying something new.” He and his brother, Wayne, have been on the other end of the shovel for a long time, but 2008 marks the first year of their having taken over the family farming operation.

And these two are more than prepared to accept the challenge of farming 3,600 acres of rice, corn, wheat and soybeans. When asked what practices best help to promote efficiency and increase profitability on their rice acres, side-inlet/intermittent irrigation and precision ag rank at the top of their list.

The Dulaneys used a side-inlet irrigation system for one year before adding the intermittent flood concept.

“I had heard about side-inlet irrigation and talked my Dad into letting me try it on one field,” J.D. says. “This particular 100-acre rice field had a riser in the middle of it and sloped both ways. It was one of the hardest fields we had to water. We laid out the polypipe, punched the holes and in 12 hours we had water all across the field.”

Side-inlet irrigation typically means that polypipe runs from the top of the field to the bottom and not always in a straight line. Sometimes it zigzags to get into all of the paddies. The Dulaneys use the big, two-inch blue gates to release water into the paddies. Last year, they didn’t have any rice gates. They just knocked the top of the levee out a bit to create an emergency spillway, if needed.

Benefits of side-inlet irrigation
Some of the advantages of side-inlet irrigation are less work and less fuel cost. In fact, the Dulaneys cut their fuel cost by one-third with this system. This approach also helps activate fertilizer and chemicals much faster.

Wayne notes that their yields actually went up, which he attributes to getting the best efficiency from their fertilizer.

“We’re not trying to push a wall of water down to the end of the field and then spilling fertilizer out of the bottom of it,” he says. “We’re getting water over the field quicker and activating the fertilizer before it has time to volatilize. It’s also a good system for herbicides. We have problems with aquatics, so I went back to Bolero, which has to be activated within 72 hours. With this system, we can do that.”

They also starting applying 12 ounces of Quadris fungicide two weeks after the mid-season fertilizer went out and realized another nine-bushel increase in yields.

“Another benefit of side-inlet irrigation is that we don’t have cold water rice problems like we used to,” J.D. says. “We’re pumping out of the well, but we are pumping the water into small locations and distributing the cold water across the whole field.”

He adds that there’s a cold water patch located at the pipe where the water comes out, but it’s about the size of a garbage can vs. four acres.

“We don’t pump as long either,” Wayne says. “We pump for 24 hours, then shut off for 36 hours, so the rice has time to recuperate from the cold water.”

Utilize ‘free water’ with intermittent flooding
The next year they were approached by Cade Smith and Joe Massey with Mississippi State University and asked to add intermittent flooding to their irrigation program. Skeptical at first, the brothers decided to give it a try.

Still using side-inlet irrigation, they pump up a field, then shut off the water for about two weeks.

“Usually during that time period, we’re going to catch a rain, which is a big advantage of intermittent flooding,” J.D. explains. “It gives us the opportunity to get free water, which basically moves our pumping time back another two weeks. For two years in a row, we’ve gone a month and a half without pumping on these fields.”

The brothers didn’t notice any adverse effect on yields and were able to cut their fuel cost even more.

“With side-inlet water, we cut our fuel by 30 percent, then cut it another 20 percent on the field where we used intermittent flooding,” Wayne says. “Today, we probably average cutting our fuel cost by 40 percent overall.”

The rest of the story: Precision ag
In addition to their innovative irrigation system, the Dulaneys have embraced precision ag in a big way. They began using yield monitors about 10 years ago. Six years ago they installed Trimble AgGPS Autopilot guidance systems on all of their equipment.

“With the auto-steer system, we don’t have an overlap when we plant,” J.D. says. “We put our roguing lanes in with a skip in the planter, by setting it up a little wider for them. We have a perfect pattern going all the way through the field. Also, with the way we pulled the levees this year, I was able to make six passes with the planter, skip over eight feet and start again. That is where the levee went, so I didn’t plant under it. I didn’t waste my seed.”

The Trimble system allows them to plant at night, too. When the Dulaneys start planting a field, they can finish planting that field in the same day. Another benefit is a decrease in driver fatigue.

When asked how they justify the investment, Wayne explains with an example.

“Before we installed the system, we were planting flat and using row markers,” he says. “It took three planters to cover a certain amount of acres in a certain period of time. Once we installed the Trimble system, we only used two planters to plant the same amount of acres in the same amount of time. Just the time it took us in the past to fold up the marker and get lined up on the mark made that much of a difference.”

Another way the Dulaneys improved their bottom line last year by utilizing precision ag was by purchasing a Newton Crouch fertilizer buggy, which ran behind one of the tractors equipped with the AgGPS Autopilot guidance system. The buggy cost $18,000, but they saved $15,000 in aerial application costs by putting out all of their pre-flood urea with ground equipment.

“We didn’t put the pencil to it, but we probably got more fertilizer in the field than we would have with an airplane because we weren’t fertilizing the ditches and the road,” Wayne notes. “We were putting every grain of fertilizer we bought in the field. The buggy also has everything we need to make variable-rate applications of P and K in the fall on our corn ground, so it paid for itself in one year.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.