Israeli Technology: First sustainable U.S. Rice Drip Irrigation Project at a California Ranch

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The first sustainable farming initiative leveraging Israel’s unparalleled research and innovation in water technology to reduce rice-crop water use will begin this spring at Conaway Ranch in Woodland, California. The project was announced last night at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Drought is a continued concern for growers in California. 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 application of fertilizers and improve weed control.

Over the past 18 months, Prof. Eilon Adar, who is one of Israel’s leading water experts, has visited California to discuss the ways Israel, an arid country, has created a surplus of water through innovation, technology and effective water management policies.

“We believe this initiative represents the first use of drip irrigation in the U.S. for a rice crop, ” explains Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, president, principal and chief executive officer of Conaway Preservation Group, which owns the 17, 000-acre Conaway Ranch.

“We couldn’t ask for better partners: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Netafim USA, the world’s leading drip irrigation manufacturer, both of which have experience growing rice in arid regions. 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.”

Bryce Lundberg, vice president of agriculture for Lundberg Family Farms, which is one of the world’s largest producers of organic rice and whole grain products said:
“We are hopeful that this concept could provide farmers with a revolutionary form of rice production not only in California.”

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

In meetings and at public forums, Prof. Adar has highlighted ways Israel is closing the gap between water supply and demand, including improving irrigation efficiency, expanding wastewater reclamation and reuse, as well as engineering drought-tolerant crops.

Netafim USA agronomists have conducted a few similar rice crop trials in other parts of the world. Based on results from previous projects, this trial is expected to produce an improvement in yield, while reducing water use.

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