Drain Days of Summer
It's August, which means the rice fields are starting to look like rice fields. It's when you start to see fully formed heads, tipped heads; as green becomes yellow, and grains become solid.
As we creep into the mid-point of August, it also means that we are about a month away from harvest. I'm sure every grower handles the final month before harvest differently. Some growers are tuning up their harvesters, while others are off fishing, or golfing. One thing every grower is doing this time of year: shutting off water and draining fields.
Why do we drain? There's one obvious and prevailing reason we drain our fields before harvest: so we can get our combines into the field to harvest the rice without getting stuck in the mud. After saturating the ground for several months, it takes about a month to dry the soil out for the machinery we run through the field.
When do we drain? Everyone seems to have their own idea for what the best system is for drying out a field. 30 days before harvest, 24 days after 50% heading, when Mars can be seen in the east and Venus in the west... No one system is better than another. It's really a matter of what each grower likes, and what works best for them and their ground.
So what's our system? Generally speaking we adopt the 30 days before harvest method. One variation we add to the mix is shutting our water off 5 to 7 days before we pull boards and drain the field.
Why do we do that? Simple answer: water conservation. While 6 days of running water may seem like small potatoes in the big picture, it can add up to a lot of water when you multiply thousands of gallons per minute, being pumped across thousands of acres of rice. Every drop helps. Especially in the water short drought days we currently live in, it's a small gesture than can save tens of thousands of gallons of water. It also adds up to cost savings for growers. It takes power to pump that water, be it electric or diesel powered pumps and wells. The costs add up fast, and trimming out 6 days of expenses related to that can add up as fast as the gallons of water we allow to float on by our fields.
As the last days of summer tick away, we will follow a carefully planned shut off and drainage schedule. About a month from now we will be dropping harvesters into these fields for some smooth sailing across hardened ground.