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Poly-tube and rice farming: saving time, effort and water

PRAIRIE COUNTY, Ark. - Last year, Frank Prislovsky and his partners found something that worked. It worked so well, in fact, that they’ve gone from using poly-tube irrigation on just a few fields to using it on rice fields farm-wide.

“We’d been reading about some newer irrigation practices in Delta Farm Press and hearing things at grower meetings for a while,” says Frank, who operates “Triple P Farms” with a bevy of family members. “For about three years I tried to talk my partners into giving poly-tubing a shot. We were a little leery about it because we weren’t sure about trying to regulate flow.”

After discussing the new technology with Phil Tacker, Extension agricultural engineer with the University of Arkansas, the partners decided to give the irrigation practice a shot. They planned to work slowly – the original plan called for only two fields being irrigated with the technique.

“We were so pleased with the results, though, we ended up with nine fields poly-tube irrigated,” says Frank. “Once we started watering, we saw that it would work just like (Prairie County Extension agent) Hank Chaney and Phil said it would. There was a little adjustment on the gates, but once that was done it worked immediately. It wasn’t nearly as hard as we were worried it would be.”

Prislovsky says Triple P Farms tests the system’s limits. Why?

“We’ve got some major hillsides we farm,” says Frank with a chuckle, “major hillsides. If it works here, I’ve got to believe it’ll work anywhere.”

Chaney says Prislovsky isn’t exaggerating.

“They approached us because they wanted to see if a couple of fields they were having trouble irrigating would benefit from a new approach. They were having trouble with one particular field because it was on a steep slope. (Another field had problems) because their water capacity is stretched so thin.”

Setting up

Last spring, Tacker and Chaney arrived at the Slovak-based operation, checked the lay of the land and set up a demonstration field plan. They showed the producers where to place the tubing and how to install and adjust the tubing’s blue gates.

“Phil really is a maestro setting these things up,” says Chaney. “He comes into a field prepared and is able to really explain things in a way that puts folks at ease. And the system has been tweaked and the tubing is so much better than when it first came out. The tubing is more rugged and can take more abuse so that’s also a selling point. Compared to conventional flood irrigation, tubing is just superior.”

There is a bit of fine-tuning that’s required. For example, if you’ve multiple wells in a field, you must adjust for that. You also must know what well-flow is, what size pipe to use and some other things.

“Once you learn those tricks, though, it’s so much easier,” says Chaney. “When they try it, I’m guessing 95 percent of the farmers we work with are happy as can be.”

Once they’d worked on the first field and learned how to use the poly-tubing, “we decided to do the rest of our operation the same way,” says Frank. “It didn’t take long for all of us to figure out this wasn’t a wasted experiment. We wanted it on all our fields immediately.”

The Prislovsky’s discovered several things early on. First, while setting up is labor-intensive once everything is in place and the gates are installed, it’s worth all the front-end effort. “Regulate the gates and the water fills the field all at once. You don’t have to make a lot of adjustments and there’s very little water wasted. It saves so much time.”

Second, using this irrigation technique is also safer for crops. “If you flood a field and a big rain hits,” says Frank, “you don’t have a big head of water on the top end pushing through.”

The crops

This year, Triple P will grow around 1,000 acres of rice and 2,100 acres of soybeans. The farm will also produce double-crop wheat/soybeans on about 900 acres.

“So far, the wheat looks really good – the price is up and hopefully we won’t have to spray for insects or put out fungicides,” says Frank. “It’s starting out well this year. That’s a welcome change, believe me.”

Frank and his brother, Gene, are fourth generation farmers.

“We grew up here and farm with our cousin, James, in a partnership. Our sons also farm with us. We have only one hired man so this is a true family farm.”

Chaney sings the Prislovsky’s praises: “This is a very good family that knows how to farm and do things right. They’ll be around after everyone else has folded up the tent and moved on.”

The operation isn’t without peril, though. The bugaboo for the Prislovsky’s, as for producers across Arkansas’ Grand Prairie, is finding enough water. That’s another reason to try the new irrigation system.

“Water is in short supply around here,” says Frank. “Most shallow wells have fallen off so bad that when you pump you’re lucky to get anything out of them – some farmers are pumping sand. We’ve still got some shallow wells working, but they’re falling off fast. Now, all our good wells are deep and we’ve built five or six reservoirs to take some pressure off. That’s all we have left. We’re trying to get away from pumping deep wells. Right now, our deep wells are sitting at 400 feet.”

Any farmer around here must use water over and over and not let a drop off his land. “We capture it all and re-use it. We cut our water use wherever we can. Luckily, our yields have kept up. We water our soybeans only when we have to. We don’t splurge with water on them. Normally, we’ll irrigate beans a couple of times – rarely would we water beans more than four times.”

By using poly-tubing, the Prislovsky’s feel they can reduce their water use on rice by a third. That has really helped out, says Frank.

“Even with the rains last year, there are a bunch of our fields we wouldn’t have been able to irrigate without those savings.”

For more information on this and other subjects, see the April 16 issue of Delta Farm Press.


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