Massey also found that, in trials to date, intermittent flooding has not created measurable problems in terms of weeds, diseases or nutrient loss.

“Some growers are concerned the flood levels would not be judged accurately and the paddies would get too dry, so we’re evaluating equipment to automate the process, such as pump controllers and water sensors,” he said. “A simple device that farmers can build in their own shop is a rice flood depth gauge that uses a seine float, PVC pipe and metal conduit.”

Dean Pennington, executive director of the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District, said water conservation is the most cost-effective way to manage water resources.

“As we work to balance the water budget in the Delta, conservation efforts like intermittent flooding are the front line of the attack,” Pennington said. “Landowners and operators can be actively involved in a solution that works for them individually and benefits the entire Delta.”

Pennington said the Tallahatchie and Mississippi rivers could supply water for irrigation. Building the required infrastructure would be costly, but it may be a viable option for Delta producers.

“Conservation is where you start. It’s generally more cost effective to conserve water than to develop a new supply,” Pennington said. “It’s better not to pump a gallon of water and save it for later than to invest in a new system.”

Massey said Mississippi’s water and soil resources will only become more important over time.

“The 2012 drought in the Midwest is an example of how the ability to irrigate is often a make-or-break factor in terms of the overall success of farmers. If we continue to strive to make efficient use of rainfall and our other water resources, everyone benefits,” Massey said.

With a production value of $146 million in 2011, rice ranked eighth among Mississippi’s agricultural commodities.