California Rice to Get Israeli Drip Treatment

In this May 2014 photo, irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch betwee rice farms in Richvale, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
In this May 2014 photo, irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between rice farms in Richvale, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The first sustainable farming initiative leveraging Israeli innovation in water technology to reduce rice-crop water use will begin this spring in California.

The project was announced at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

“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 in Woodland, California.

“We couldn’t ask for better partners: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research 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.”

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, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Prof. Eilon Adar has visited several times to meet with California legislators and water resource officials, discussing the Israeli water management methods.

“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.