Row rice may not be a silver bullet, but it has a fit

Sam Atwell

SAM ATWELL
MISSOURI
Agronomy Specialist
atwells@missouri.edu

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, all of our Southeast Missouri delta has a huge replenishing aquifer. So if your well is not pumping to capacity, it’s not a lack of water in your aquifer — it’s your well.

Row rice or furrow-irrigated rice remains a hot topic, and acres are on the increase because it’s a big deal if we can remove all or most levees from rice fields, maintain yields and increase profits. University of Missouri researchers have studied furrow-irrigated rice since 1988. Many changes occur between anaerobic and aerobic soil conditions, and adjustments must be made.

Plus water stress is not good for rice.

Rice consultants armed with new technology offer changes and the never-ending need for continued research on furrow-irrigated rice.

The goal for most Missouri farmers using the system is to grow rice on problem fields and make a profit. Should you switch to or consider furrow-irrigated on non-rice land depends on your specific situation.

Problems like topography, crop rotation, water, soils and economics are all valid reasons for making changes, but they may not carry the same weight. Saving money by pumping less water is probably the hardest to justify.

Lack of water from a weak well that can’t hold a flood will probably not be solved with the system. However, sloping fields with lots of levees is the number one reason to switch, followed by crop rotation, sandy soils and heavy clay soils that wick well.
A furrow-irrigated field rarely outyields a good flooded field, but it often outyields a bad field or a another less-profitable crop.

Advantages for Furrow-Irrigated Row-Bedded Rice:
1. Rotate crops without tearing down levees, rebedding and reworking ground every year.
2. Have your fields prepared in the fall for any crop next spring.
3. Eliminate levees to gain more land area and easier to harvest.
4. Flexibility to switch or choose a crop to plant right before planting. (economics, seed)
5. Grow rice on irregularly pitched fields.
6. Grow rice on sandy soils.
7. Establish permanent beds on heavy clay soils and zero grade for soybeans.
8. Easier to use ground equipment longer into season. (less aerial applications)

Disadvantages:
1. Yield and grain quality more difficult to achieve.
2. Water management uniformity more difficult. (Upper 1/3, middle 1/3, lower 1/3)
3. Fertilizer management uniformity more difficult. (Upper 1/3, middle 1/3, lower 1/3)
4. Weed control more difficult. (Upper 1/3, middle 1/3, lower 1/3)
5. Disease, particularly blast, potential is greater.
6. Potential for more adjustments of pesticide applications.
7. Purchase and handle more collapsible poly tubing.