Rice producers can save water and money by following new University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture recommendations for early irrigation termination and draining of rice fields.

"How many things can you do that save money, time, work and water with zero cost for equipment or anything else and no loss of rice yield or quality? Not very many!" said Terry Gray of Delaplaine, Ark., answering his own question.

Gray is an enthusiastic convert to early draining, which is based on research funded by the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board. A current ARRPB-funded project is looking at the economic impact of early termination of irrigation from a farming system perspective.

"Our research is conclusive," said Paul Counce, plant physiologist at the Rice Research and Extension Center near Stuttgart, Ark.

"We have not found any situation where rice yield or quality is reduced when irrigation is ceased 10 days after heading or when rice is drained 14 days after 50 percent heading," Counce said.

Counce and colleagues conducted field tests for four years on silt-loam and clayey soils at RREC and the Northeast Research and Extension Center at Keiser, and two years at Pine Tree Branch Station at Colt. Ark.

"There are no negatives to it," Gray said. "Nobody needs to spend more time pumping water and working ground. It costs nothing. It can benefit every rice farmer in the state of Arkansas. Not many things out there can do that."

Gray has been using the practice for two years on 1,100 to 1,200 acres and said the new practice "works like a top" on his zero grade rice fields planted in continuous rice. In addition to using less water, a major benefit is no rutting from combines because the soil has more time to dry. No rutting saves land-forming costs and improves red rice control.

"We figure a rut costs us $25 an acre," Gray says.

The current research project, by Counce, UA agricultural economists Michael Popp and Patrick Manning and UA agronomist Terry Keisling, is looking at the level of risk associated with early draining as well as economic benefits, such as making more water available for soybeans, and incorporates risk preferences of the grower.

Howell Medders writes for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.