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Unleash Pivot Power

Missouri farmer finds a new way to bring rice into the rotation


By Carroll Smith
Editor
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Dennis Robison, who farms in the Missouri Bootheel, is typically in a 50/50 rotation between rice and soybeans on 2,600 acres. For the most part, this rotation works well for him with the exception of a 45-acre field that has sandy, loamy soil in the flats and extremely sandy soil on the side of the hills.

In this field, he rotated soybeans and wheat. However, he began to notice a pretty severe cyst nematode buildup in the beans and weed issues and disease problems in the wheat. He wanted to be able to plant rice in this field, but flooded rice just wouldn’t work on a “sand hill.” The rest of his fields are graded and leveled.

“I read where the Delta Center was experimenting with pivot rice, and I had a pivot, so I got some information from them, then talked over the possibility with my consultant, Mark Cummings, from Corning, Ark.,” Robison says. “We tried to think of problems that we might run into, but we couldn’t come up with any, so, in 2010, we decided to give pivot rice a try.”

The Missouri farmer had his pivot equipped with a GPS Ready Valley Pro2 control panel, which, according to Valley, provides the highest level of control and monitoring, both in the field and remotely. This panel can utilize the most advanced functions of Tracker SP and the BaseStation2. These functions allow a farmer to control and monitor the pivot from a desktop computer without actually standing in front of the pivot in the field.

Pivot Uses Less Water

When it came time to plant, Robison chose CLEARFIELD XL729 for the 45-acre field. He said Valley’s Circle of Rice program recommended that he had to be able to put out at least one-third of an inch of water in 24 hours.

“This field probably takes a little more than that, but I have the capability to put out one-half inch of water on this ground in 13 hours,” Robison says. “I always watered the field at night in 2010 because the water doesn’t blow around as much, and it was so hot that year. In the end, however, it yielded 186 bushels per acre dry, and the milling was very good.

“Although we didn’t know for sure, we speculated that pumping cold water on the rice at night might have helped the milling quality,” he adds. “But this is just a guess on our part. Water wasn’t an issue. We kept the field clean and adjusted our fertilizer program a bit. Everything worked fine. Growing rice on this field helped break the cyst nematode cycle, and, in 2011, when I came back with beans here, it added about 10 bushels per acre to my soybean yield.

“Also, glyphosate-resistant pigweeds were getting to be a problem, and the herbicides that I apply on rice will kill the pigweeds,” Robison says. “That helped a lot, plus I planted LibertyLink beans in 2011 to keep them cleaned out. At some point, I will rotate back to Roundup Ready beans to keep changing up the herbicide chemistries.”

Robison also injected about 28 percent liquid nitrogen through the pivot early in the season and again toward the end of the season. In 2012 on the 45-acre field, Robison planted CLEARFIELD XL 745 because it seems to have better grain retention, he says.

To gauge the amount of water used, Robison installed flow meters on both the pivot-irrigated field and the flooded field. In the end, the pivot rice yielded 172.09 bushels per acre compared to his flooded rice, which yielded 172.68 bushels per acre. However, the pivot rice used 40 percent less water.

Disease Package Is Key

An important consideration related to growing pivot-irrigated rice is variety selection, Robison says.

“We’ve been sticking with the hybrids because they have the best disease package,” he explains. “Disease can be elevated in a pivot rice situation. However, it’s usually a good idea to budget for at least one application of Quadris or Headline, just in case.”

Robison said he made one fungicide application in 2010 primarily as a preventative against blast, which didn’t show up that year. In 2012, they continued to scout for blast, but didn’t see any, so he did not apply a fungicide last year.

“2012 was very dry, so I think that might have decreased the disease pressure to a certain extent,” he says. “However, just to be safe, you should count on budgeting for at least one fungicide application because, in most cases, blast does show up somewhere.”

Site-Specific Benefits

The advantages of growing rice under a pivot depend on whether a producer is suffering from a disadvantage. For example, if a farmer is running out of water in the area, pivot irrigation can help him stay in the rice production business.

Also, if a producer usually grows corn, wheat and soybeans and wants to add another crop to the rotation on a field or fields not typically suited to flooded rice, then pivot-irrigated rice may be an option.

Adding rice to the rotation provides the opportunity to introduce new chemistry into the mix.

Another scenario might be a rice farmer with a farm that is ungraded and the cost of leveling is out of reach, or, if the farm has hills that are too big to grade, then that farmer can compare those costs to the cost of a pivot. The pivot might be a way to get the operation into irrigated rice production faster and cheaper.

In the end, the decision to utilize pivot-irrigated rice production, whether on one field, several fields or an entire farm, depends on the producer’s site-specific situation.

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

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