Rice is an important crop in many places, and a staple food for many people worldwide. Traditionally, rice is grown with flood irrigation, a method that reduces weeds but is labor-intensive, requires lots of water and limits production to areas with the right climate and soil.
Some experiments are looking at a new way of growing rice, one that could expand rice production to places where it had been thought impossible.
Researchers are experimenting with center-pivot irrigation, an overhead sprinkler system commonly used on corn and soybeans. On rice, the technique requires less labor, water and fuel than traditional rice farming.
The main purpose of this experiment is to reduce water. It's possible to use half the water and energy with this system compared to a traditional rice field. The experiment was started in the spring, comparing the performance of pivot-irrigated rice to a traditional flooded rice field. The pivot showed its water-saving potential after just a few weeks.
On the flooded field, they used about 2 million gallons of water on a 6-acre field in just two-and-a-half weeks. On the pivot system, they hadn't even put out 1 million gallons yet and they had been watering for probably three weeks longer.
The method could triple rice production. With center-pivot irrigation, it would be possible to grow rice on fields with hills. It really opens up possibilities to other farmers who couldn't grow rice before.