The Lundberg family began farming rice in 1937. For decades, they have developed a reputation not only for tasty and healthy rice, but also for their organic and environmentally-friendly farming practices. However, rice farming requires a lot of water. In fact, is one of the most water intensive of California’s crops.
Probably you have seen rice paddies. The fields are flooded. This is the typical way to grow rice. In locations where there is ample rain, this is not such a problem. But flooding the fields in California, which has been battling drought conditions for years, is an extremely costly irrigation method. And California’s rice industry is feeling the heat. Experts say that the 2015 rice crop was 30 percent less than usual to due to lack of water.
A very exciting partnership has formed to test out a new method of irrigation that will hopefully bring relief to California’s rice growers. Conaway Ranch in Woodland, California, researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel, Lundberg Family Farms and Netafim USA are combining their vast intellectual, technological and agricultural experience to bring sub-surface drip-irrigation to the rice fields of Conaway Ranch. Nefatim, USA designs and manufactures drip irrigation systems. Its agronomists have conducted other trials around the world but this pilot project, slated to begin in the spring, will mark the first time that sub-surface drip irrigation has been used in the US for rice crop. The pilot project will cover between 50 to 100 acres of rice fields on the Conaway Ranch, a 100 year old farming enterprise.
A series of pipes will transfer water directly to the roots of the rice plants. According to project leader, Dr. Eilon Adar, one of the leading water experts in the world, by switching from flood irrigation to drip irrigation, water usage can be reduced by 45-50 percent, for the same amount of crop, saving farmers water, increasing profits, reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, and creating healthier soil.
Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, president, and chief executive officer of Conaway Preservation Group, owners of the 17,000 acres Conaway Ranch, said, “This effort could serve as a model for other farms and potentially save hundreds of thousands of acre feet in California if widely adopted.”
It is good news for consumers too, because less rice means higher prices at the grocery store. Let’s hope the project succeeds.