Farmer Designs Unique Conservation System to Grow Rice

Bruce Schultz  |  1/4/2018 9:43:38 PM

Bruce Schultz

Christian Richard’s farm in southwest Louisiana near Kaplan is a work in progress, and it has been for decades.

Richard credits his grandparents for laying the conservation groundwork with numerous improvements on the land he now farms. “My grandparents have done a lot of work,” he said.

And he is quick to credit his wife, Julie, for her support as a farming partner and mother of their three children. Richard said his wife deals with the paperwork in the farming operation, and she also has a full understanding of what is involved in growing a crop. “She is the glue that holds it all together.”

Richard acquired additional land that had been in sugarcane production for 15 years next to his grandparents’ property, and he wanted to return it to rice.

“It was a blank canvas and we got to design it the way we want it. There was no infrastructure at all. It was a wide-open field,” he said.

The projects have made farming easier and more profitable, with the added environmental benefit. A series of irrigation lines was installed with numerous pipe drops and risers to allow for greater control for flooding and draining fields. Three pipelines were installed, totaling 16,000 feet, Richard said.

“That allowed us to tie in to a lift pump into a tailwater recovery system,” he said. Tailwater is the term used for irrigation water that runs off fields.

Richard uses an abandoned 120-year-old canal, 100 feet wide by almost a mile long, as a reservoir to hold water that can be pumped on or off his rice fields. He plans to expand the canal’s capacity by digging it deeper. A side benefit of this tailwater recovery system is the contribution to wildlife habitat for migratory waterfowl.

Since 2003, Richard has precision-leveled all his farmland with a slight slope to enhance drainage. “There are inlets and outlets in every paddy of the farm,” he said.

But Richard said leveling has to be done cautiously. “We don’t want to remove too much dirt because we don’t have that much topsoil.”

Richard said he not only saves money because less water is needed to flood the fields, but herbicides work better and rice crops grow better. “Everything is better. There’s no two ways about it.”

He also eliminated a labyrinth of levees, and straightened the levees he kept to make fields easier and more efficient to work. “We use GPS on everything we do.”

Grid sampling of soil is used along with variable applications of phosphorus and potassium. He said those two nutrients have to be added to the soil just before planting for them to be taken up by young plants.

He also uses chicken litter to improve yields on soil that was drastically cut in the laser-levelling process.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll see a 50 percent reduction in yield in those areas,” he said.

He uses no-till planting into a stale seedbed that improves soil moisture at planting.

Most of the pumps on Richard’s farm have been converted from diesel power to electricity.

Richard said the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service measured his water well’s capacity at 3,000 gallons a minute, and the flow of water was tested at each riser.

All of these improvements are practices recognized by the Louisiana Master Farmer Program for their benefits to the environment. Richard said the Louisiana Master Farmer Program makes the conservation measures more valuable because the designation gives a higher ranking to an applicant when a conservation board considers competing applicants for conservation cost-share programs.

By his involvement with the program, Richard developed a resource management system plan to document the conservation practices he has done and to identify new projects.

He has been recognized several times for his conservation projects. In 2011, Richard was selected as the Outstanding Louisiana Master Farmer of the Year.

He is a participant in the Rice Stewardship Partnership Fieldprint Project sponsored by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited for enhancing rice land and providing valuable habitat for waterfowl.

He has a degree in agribusiness from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Richard is a 2005 USA Rice Leadership Development class graduate, and he was in the LSU AgCenter Leadership Program.

He has been chosen as the 2017 Rice Farmer of the Year, receiving the award at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in San Antonio, Texas. He was nominated for the award by Steve Linscombe, retired director of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.

“He’s a very innovative young farmer who’s deserving of that honor,” Linscombe said. “I think he sets the example of an outstanding individual who’s a trendsetter and early adopter. He has a state-of-the-art farming operation with many conservation improvements.”

Bruce Schultz is a writer and photographer with LSU AgCenter Communications.

Read more about the research project conducted on this tailwater recovery system in the article titled Recirculating Irrigation Water to Manage Pollution in a Rice-Soybean Rotation.

(This article appears in the fall 2017 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Christian Richard, who farms rice, crawfish and soybeans in Vermilion Parish in southwest Louisiana, uses a unique system to manage water and nutrients in his rice-farming operation. It’s called a tailwater recovery system because he captures the water from the fields and reuses it so none of the fertilizer is lost in runoff. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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