Johnny McGraw wanted his son, who was new to farming, to learn about rice production by working with University of Arkansas personnel last year. McGraw, a Lincoln County farmer, learned some new lessons in the process.
McGraw participated in the Cooperative Extension Service's Rice Research and Verification Program. He agreed to provide a 30-acre field and follow the university's unbiased, research-based recommendations to demonstrate their value in commercial production.
“I have a son, John Allen, who came home to farm and help me, and I thought this would be good experience for him. I want my son to work rice a lot more on his own.”
McGraw said his son scouted the field every week with Jeff Branson, Extension verification program coordinator, and county agent Chad Norton. McGraw would go if he had a chance.
He said the Extension experts looked at his field intensively and made recommendations about management decisions.
McGraw said the decisions were things he should have been doing all along, but he hadn't because of a lack of time. “Now I know they're more important than I once thought,” he said. He plans to make changes in insect and disease management decisions based on last year's experience.
The recommendations increased his yields by at least 10 bushels over normal and decreased his expenses.
“We had the cheapest crop from a herbicide standpoint on that field that I've ever had,” McGraw said.
In the past, he said, if he walked across the field and saw grass in an area, he'd spray the whole field. “Jeff, Chad and my son would walk it and see grass, but they determined that it wasn't bad enough. It turned out they were right. There was some grass around the edges that looked worse than I like, but it wasn't enough to hurt the yield.”
McGraw learned things about fertilizer and pesticide timing and fertilizer rates.
He said there were stinkbugs and grasshoppers in his field, but not enough to reach the threshold where treatment was required. “If I'd been calling the shots, I probably would have sprayed. They did it more scientifically with a sweep net.”
McGraw didn't use multiple-inlet irrigation in the field. It's recommended by Extension, but the field is easy to water without using the technique.
However the farmer used multiple-inlet irrigation on much of his other 1,400 rice acres last year.
“I've done it because of Extension recommendations, and it really works. I'd say we've cut our water usage almost in half,” he said.
The technique helps him flood a field a lot faster than conventional techniques and increase the efficiency of nitrogen applications.
“It has been a real benefit. We've had some fields where it was hard to get the water across for various reasons. It works on flat fields as well as steeply sloped fields.”
The technique is a labor saver and requires less pumping, which McGraw said is important with the high price of diesel fuel.
Meanwhile, McGraw said he would like to see the university increase its fertilizer research into the kind of buckshot-gumbo soil that he has. He said Norton and Branson recommended last year that he increase his normal fertilizer rates. He thinks additional research might show that the fertilizer could be bumped up even more.
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.