Bucking the conventional, rice producer Mike Ellis grows his crop without levees or diesel.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years,” says Ellis, pointing out his pick-up truck window at a well-tended field of medium-grain Jupiter. “When I was in college, there were some people in Dexter, Mo., doing it. Of course, they didn’t have the weed control we have now – it was kind of hit-and-miss with Facet.”

View photos of Ellis' operation  here.

Now, with much better herbicides, “it’s not as big a stretch.”

This particular field, outside Paragould, Ark., is about 35 acres. If it was farmed traditionally, there would contain around 25 levees.

“Those are eliminated by going with this type of farming. We do have a few levees at the bottom end to catch the run-off and slow it down.

“Now, it’s not a practice that can be used everywhere. But every Delta farmer has some fields it would probably work in. It runs about a week to 10 days behind paddy rice.”

The biggest advantage with the practice, says Ellis, shows up in fields where there are many stacked levees. It also cuts down labor – “there’s not much to adjust.

“Now, you may have to spray for weeds an extra time because in a flooded environment the water keeps weeds down. That isn’t the case here, obviously.”

Ellis also has to apply a bit more nitrogen than normal. The method isn’t as efficient with that compared to a flooded field.

“I haven’t noticed any differences as far as pests in this field. Just typical rice issues.”

Ellis farms 2,850 acres. This year, “I’m not growing as much rice as normal – about 700 acres. Usually, I plant 1,100 acres in rice.”

Since the practice is so rare, Ellis doesn’t have a template to go by. “It’s kind of hit-and-miss and we’re trying different things. I have never tried watering more than a quarter-mile. I don’t know the limits. Would a half-mile work?”

The levee-less crop is normally irrigated every other night. “We keep it muddy.

“The yields from doing this, I’ve found, are par – or maybe a slight discount – with a conventional field. I can’t tell much difference between this field and a paddy-field in the same variety right next to it. They were planted at the same time and look the same, really.”

What goaded Ellis to try this?

“My father, who’s still alive, always wanted to do it. So, we just decided to give it a shot. Rob Baxley, my consultant, has been very helpful and beneficial in working with it.”

One of the main reasons people have shied away from it is a fear of blast, says Ellis. “I was always told blast would tear it up because rice needs to be flooded to keep that from happening. But we haven’t had any trouble with blast.”

Jupiter, he says, “is susceptible to blast. We’ve also grown hybrids doing this.”

While not on every one of Ellis’ rice acres, it’s on “200 acres down the middles. I usually have 150 to 300 acres of rice down the middles every year. It just depends on the rotation.

“One of the good things is if it’s a dry fall, you won’t rut the ground up when harvesting. The field is ready to no-till soybeans the next year. You just use the same beds – it’s bedded up just like corn or cotton.”

The field, alongside a busy road, has drawn attention.

“Last year was the first time I’ve done this on the highway. Before that, it was always back off the road or on the backside of the farm and wasn’t noticed much. But when we put it on this main road, there was many more folks wanting to talk about it.

“I’m going to see if the NRCS and soil conservationists want to check it out and verify how much water is being used.”