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Rice Research Yields Promising Results

As the global population grows, so does the need to find ways to produce more with less. That’s why researchers at the University of Missouri are studying the effects of center pivot irrigation over rice. 

“Rice is one of the most important grains in the world but, because it’s water intensive, it typically requires flood irrigation,” said Gene Stevens, professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources. “With center pivot irrigation, farmers are able to produce rice in areas where we could never grow it before – expanding opportunities for farmers with fields that won’t hold water. If they want to add rice into their crop rotation, center pivot irrigation will let them do that.”

Pivot irrigated rice produces kernels with significantly lower arsenic concentration – which is important, because rice is a staple food for billions of people.

We first introduced you to Stevens, a cropping systems specialist, in a blog that was posted in 2015. He and his team continue to conduct important research at MU’s Delta Research Center near Portageville in southern Missouri – working to overcome the challenges that come with rice production.

“One of the biggest challenges is weed control. With flood irrigation, there’s some protection – the water helps drown unwanted weeds,” he said. “With center pivots, you need to use chemicals. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many chemical options for rice as there are for corn and soybeans, and the chemicals that are available can be rough on the crop. We’re getting better weed control now, though, and the chemicals aren’t causing as much crop injury.”

Despite the challenges, Stevens said he’s encouraged with progress being made in research with center pivots.

“We’re getting yields that are comparable to flood rice. Our best plot yielded 175 bushels this year. In the past, 130 bushels was really good,” he said. “My goal is to continue narrowing the gap between flood and pivot irrigated yields so that they are the same. We’re not there yet, but I’m very optimistic.”