For the past few years, pivots have been circling rice fields in areas of the Mid-South for several different reasons. It’s not indicative of a wholesale move away from traditional rice-watering methods, but pivot-irrigated rice is an option in certain situations.
Some examples of where pivot-irrigated rice systems may be worth considering are as follows:
• The ground may be so uneven that levees would take up too much of the field.
• The amount of water that can be pumped is limited because the water table is so very low.
• The soil profile in a field may change from light sand to black dirt and everything in between, and a pivot could be programmed to vary the amount of water that goes on different areas.
• A farmer may already have a pivot and be looking to plant rice as a rotational crop in a field where another crop is not yielding well.
Wild Melon – 2010’s Biggest Challenge
Kevin Hoffman, a diversified – mainly row-crop producer – who farms just south of Eagle Lake, Texas, says he planted a small 45-acre field of pivot-irrigated rice last year just because he’s a person who likes trying new things.
“We had a pivot, and RiceTec asked us to cooperate with them in a trial to see how the rice would turn out,” Hoffman says. “We grew XL723 and also had some replicated test strips planted to a conventional variety so we could compare the performance of pivot-irrigated rice to flooded rice.”
The Texas producer applied fertilizer with the pivot, but prefers to use a ground rig for herbicide applications. He says the biggest challenge he experienced with the pivot-irrigated rice field last year was weeds, particularly wild melon. Hoffman cut 35 barrels an acre as far as total acres, but didn’t actually harvest the entire field. Some spots were abandoned because the weeds had taken over.
“Last year was a bad year for rice in our area because we had too much rain during pollination,” Hoffman says. “However, some of the test strips in the field cut from 40 to 47 barrels and were right in line with the flooded rice. Also, the hybrid rice handled disease better than the conventional varieties.”
Valley Irrigation participated in the trial, too. In one test of the equipment, the company installed some wide tires and some narrow tires on the pivot. According to Hoffman, “The wide tires outperformed the narrow tires hands down.”
After the season was over, he realized that with the pivot running every two to three days his water bill had amounted to approximately $47 per acre on that field compared to his dad’s water bill, which ran from $80 to $100 per acre in pumping costs. He also saved money on aerial application since he ran the ground rig himself.
Herbicide Program Changes In 2011
Hoffman readily admits that last year’s experience with pivot-irrigated rice was a learning process. And one thing he learned was that he had to change up his herbicide program.
“This year we planted Clearfield XL745,” he says. “My focus is more on pre-emerge control and higher rates to keep the weeds from coming up because, once they come up, it’s hard to stop them. I applied Command at planting, followed by Clearpath. The next application is a tankmix of Prowl and Aim. I’m using Aim to pick up a broadleaf that Clearpath doesn’t control, and the Prowl is extra protection against wild melon and pigweed.
“To me, the main advantage of pivot-irrigated rice is that it is so easy to water,” Hoffman says. “I just push a button, and, in six hours, I am done. It’s a lot easier on my body and my mind.”