Exciting Learnings at LSU AgCenter Field Day

Today we’ve got a very special post to share with you!

Vayda team members Danny, Justin, Gabriel and John David recently participated in a field day hosted by Louisiana State University. The event was held at the Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, Louisiana and was focused on the advantages and disadvantages of row rice versus paddy rice. 

Row rice, of course, is rice grown under non-flooded conditions, while paddy rice is rice grown by ongoing flooding of the field. Since this information may be valuable to the broader growing public, we decided to distill the key learnings below.

The Advantages of Row Rice

Row rice offers three distinct advantages. The first is that field operations for row rice productions are no different than those used to grow other row crops in the Mississippi Delta –– such as corn, soybean, and cotton. Growers, as a result, retain the flexibility to leverage market conditions when deciding what to grow during the spring. Whether it be rice, one of the crops mentioned above, or other crops grown in a similar manner. 

Paddy rice, on the other hand, requires specific field operations (like raised levees) that are not proper for the growth of other crops. Once field operations are made in the fall to prepare a field for patty rice, growers are more or less locked into growing rice there the following spring. 

The second advantage of row rice is that it allows for ground applications of fertilizer and herbicides, which is significantly cheaper than applying it via airplane (as paddy rice requires.)

The third advantage is that row rice allows for the implementation of the no till system, because the groover used to create the irrigation furrows (seen below) also works well when there is residue at the soil’s surface. Which, in turn, reduces the number of field operations and fuel consumption compared to growing paddy rice. 

Groover used to create the irrigation furrows for row rice production. A 12 row unit (30 ft wide) costs $56,000 according to the manufacturer.
Groover used to create the irrigation furrows for row rice production.
Row rice system with irrigation furrows created with the groover.
Irrigation furrows created by the groover on a no till system with cover crops.

The Disadvantages of Row Rice

The Vayda team was reminded of three limitations of growing row rice instead of paddy rice.

The first is that the permanent flooding used to grow paddy rice helps reduce the number of weed species that emerge. Not only that –– various herbicides used for rice production are water activated, and kicked into action by the flooding. Since fields are not constantly flooded in row rice systems, there tend to be more issues with weed control.

The second drawback is that the constant wetting and drying necessary in row rice systems may increase denitrification losses. All in all, this can increase nitrogen fertilizer requirements by 15% – 20% compared to paddy rice systems. 

This leads to the third disadvantage of row rice systems –– which is that growers can expect to pay $729 per acre for herbicide and nitrogen fertilizer as opposed to just $650 per acre for paddy rice growers. 

What Was LSU’s Verdict?

You may be thinking: “Okay, so there’s pros and cons to both kinds of rice growth systems, but which one is ultimately superior?”

What LSU concluded is that –– despite the potential issue with weed control and increased need for nitrogen fertilizer –– row rice systems are better-aligned with regenerative principles.

The main reason is that row rice allows for no till planting, thereby eliminating the constant need for tillage operations to create and recondition the beds.

Interestingly, LSU has also experimented with Australian winter peas and Patagonia vetch as cover crops and got promising results with those. Combining cover crop planting in the fall with row rice planting (without residue incorporation) in the spring is likely to produce the greatest regenerative outcomes. 

This should lead to increased soil health, reduced soil erosion, better soil aggregation, more resilience, and grain yield stability over the long term.

Furthermore, this same technique (cover crop planting in the fall plus furrow irrigation creation with the groover) could also be applied to other row crops grown at Vayda’s Delta Flagship Farm. These would include corn, soybean, and cotton, further increasing the sustainability of agricultural production.

That said –– as a regenerative farming company –– we’re excited to further advance these approaches directly.