Californian ranch tests rice irrigation project

(left to right) Professor Eilon Adar, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, President, Principal and Chief Executive Officer of Conaway Preservation Group © BGU

The first sustainable farming initiative, leveraging Israel’s research and innovation in water technology to reduce rice-crop water use, will begin this year at Conaway Ranch in California. The project has brought together the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel), Netafim USA and Lundberg Family Farms in an attempt to reduce water usage.

“We believe this initiative represents the first use of drip irrigation in the US for a rice crop,” said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, President, Principal and Chief Executive Officer of Conaway Preservation Group, which owns the 17,000-acre Conaway Ranch. “This effort could serve as a model for other farms and potentially save hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water in California if widely adopted.”

Drought is a continued concern for growers in California, and this project seeks to better understand if rice can be grown effectively with sub-surface drip irrigation. The method consists of a series of pipes that deliver water directly to the root zone of the plant and has the potential to reduce rice-crop water usage, as well as save on the application of fertilisers and improve weed control.

“We are hopeful that this concept could provide farmers with a revolutionary form of rice production not only in California, but wherever rice is grown worldwide,” said Bryce Lundberg, Vice President of Agriculture for Lundberg Family Farms, producers of organic rice and whole grain products. “We are always looking to implement new technologies that can benefit growers and promote sustainable farming practices, and we hope that the project’s success can be duplicated to improve organic weed management while producing environmental and conservation benefits.”

Over the past 18 months, Professor Eilon Adar of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has visited the US several times to meet with California legislators and water resource officials, discussing how Israel, an arid country, has created a surplus of water through innovation, technology and effective water management policies.

“After evaluating a number of options to enhance water use defficiency, Conaway Ranch decided to move forward with a subsurface drip irrigation pilot project on a 50- to 100-acre area for rice,” explained Professor Adar. “We’ve outlined the testing procedures necessary to maximise success, based on experience growing a variety of crops in arid climates using sub-surface drip irrigation.”