Louisiana farmers for years have focused more on drainage than irrigation. But practices have changed with changing weather.

LSU AgCenter experts provided irrigation ideas at a seminar in Vidalia, La., recently.

Farmer Rodney Matthews of Ferriday, La., said he would like to apply some of the irrigation techniques on his soybean farm. “I may do it,” Matthews said. “I’ve got some ridges I think I can irrigate.”

Bill Branch, LSU AgCenter irrigation specialist, said northeast Louisiana producers have more experience with new irrigation technology adopted in Arkansas and Mississippi.

“When I want to learn about new irrigation techniques, I come to Concordia Parish,” Branch said.

Glenn Daniels, LSU AgCenter county agent in Concordia Parish, said he views irrigation in the same light as car insurance.

“In this farm economy, you can’t afford a wreck,” Daniels said, adding that this year has been an especially difficult one because of dry conditions.

LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said studies have shown irrigation benefits farmers under certain circumstances.

Guidry said a seven-year analysis of irrigated soybeans shows the practice can increase yields and profits adequately to justify the expense. He said fields in the LSU AgCenter soybean verification program that were irrigated had an average yield of 50.8 bushels, a 10-bushel increase over non-irrigated fields. That translated into an increase in returns above variable production costs of $38 an acre, he said.

Joe Massey of the Mississippi State University Plant and Soil Sciences Department said Mississippi rice growers reduced irrigation costs by as much as 62 percent with such practices as straightening levees, using polyethylene tubing and laser leveling.

“These are producer fields — not research station plots,” Massey said.

The Mississippi expert said some farmers are reluctant to try polyethylene tubing because they’ve heard it is difficult to install.

“I can tell you, if I can do it, anyone can do it,” Massey said. “Over time, maybe there will be more adoption of the poly tubing.”

A tour of the Angelina Plantation in Concordia Parish showed how poly tubing can be used to irrigate cotton, soybeans and rice planted on level-basin– or zero-slope — and low-slope, precision-graded fields.

Dean Pennington of the YMD Water Management District in Stoneville, Miss., reported 2005 data that showed six rice fields leveled to zero grade used less than half as much water as eight rice fields irrigated with the traditional contour levee system.

Tommy Ellett, a partner in the Angelina Plantation, said further irrigation efficiency improvements are planned with a tail-water collection system to store water for re-use after it runs off fields. “Our goal is to continuously use our tail-water and never let it leave the farm.”

Ellett said new regulations are likely that will penalize Louisiana farmers for releasing silty water from their fields into watersheds.

Branch agreed with that prediction. “We’re going to have to get serious about the tail-water we are losing, and reduced pumping cost is a strong incentive to recycle irrigation water,” Branch said.

LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk also said poly tubing is particularly good on long, narrow fields that typically require days for flooding.

“I’d like to see more of this on rice fields,” he said.

Noble Guedon of Concordia Parish has used poly tubing this year on his rice crop. “We haven’t had any problem with it,” he said. “I like it.”

Guedon advised installing the pipe in deep trenches to prevent the pipe from rolling once it is filled with water.

In related news, Saichuk said he has seen a lot of red rice in fields this year. “I saw a lot of dirty fields because they couldn’t get the water on soon enough. To me, there’s no sense having a crop suffer from the lack of water when that (a pump) is sitting right there, whether it’s corn or beans.”