Growing Rice Better.

Rice being the staple food of a large percentage of the world population, it seemed prudent to start looking at the way it is grown, as this is the only major crop that is transplanted at the beginning of the growth period. And this is exactly where the main problem occurs. As Fr. Lalauni showed in his System Of Rice Intensification, his research in Madagascar proved that the time of transplantation was extremely important. This is consistent with general knowledge of transplantation techniques.

It has been common practice around the world to transplant rice at 13 or 14 days. This, in actual fact, is outside the transplantation “Window” for most plants, and this definitely includes rice. This means that the seedlings suffer a ‘shock’, from which they need to recover to continue growing. It has been shown that for rice, the recovery period is 3 weeks!

If, however, the seedlings are transplanted at 8 days, they are still within their “Window”, and grow on as if nothing at all had happened. Of course, 8-day seedlings are not as robust as 14-day seedlings, and need correspondingly careful treatment.

Further experimentation showed that the best results were obtained when individual seedlings were planted at a spacing of 12 inches – further apart than has hitherto been customary. This planting regime – single seedlings and 12-inch spacing – has been amply confirmed by research in India and Pakistan.

The results from such simple changes can only be described as astounding!

1. The time to harvest is shortened by the three week period that the plants no longer need to recover.

2. Root growth is stronger and deeper.

3. Individual plants are bigger and fuller.

4. The yield from each plant is vastly higher than before – a 100% increase is normal.

Other advantages are claimed, but are not so easy to quantify.

a) Less fertilizer required.

b) Less irrigation required.

c) Less pesticide required.

One item may be seen as a disadvantage by some. Flooding the field is no longer used as a method of weed control, and weeds need to be removed manually, possibly resulting in higher labour costs. This is important, as there is always the need to avoid unwanted plants competing with the rice for the nutrients in the soil. At harvest time, the threshing machine will be busy for longer, as it has an increased workload to deal with. This may result in some increased cost if the machine is hired.

Any normal rice seed is suitable for this system. There is no special seed for SRI, and if somebody wants to sell you some, they are probably operating a scam.

Hybrid seeds offer a 15% increase in yield, but the price of seed is correspondingly high. I would ask why settle for 15% increase at a higher cost when you could double your yield at no charge? Hybrid seeds, unless there is a special property that is important, seem to offer no advantage over normal seed. And don’t forget, that any seed saved from a planting of hybrid seed, will be back to a normal yield. The “Hybrid Vigour” only applies to the F1 hybrid.

Temperature affects rice yields in two ways.

1. Research indicates that yield drops 10% for every 1C degree increase in temperature. It is suggested that covering the field with black mesh netting, (such as is commonly used for an Orchidarium), may suitably reduce temperatures. This will be an item for further experimentation.

2. It has also been noted that not reaching a low enough point in the daily temperature cycle could negatively influence yield. Although no specific data is available at this time, it is certainly possible to use irrigation at the later part of the day to reduce soil temperature, and hence lower the nighttime temperature to a minimum.

Note that the irrigation cycle should allow the soil to dry out and crack. This aerates the soil, and any increase in water loss through increased evaporation will be nullified at the next hoeing cycle as weeds are removed.

The foregoing applies to rice grown in the dry season. The rainy season has special requirements, as follows: –

In areas where there is a strong possibility that fields will flood for periods in excess of 3 days, the whole crop is at risk.

It is therefore most strongly recommended that only flood-proof rice be sown. This has been developed in Japan, and is known as “Snorkel Rice”. Under flood conditions, it grows breather tubes, and will survive, whereas normal rice will simply perish after 4 days. Please note that Snorkel Rice is not commonly available yet, and you may have to travel considerable distances to obtain it.

One of the rice farmer’s worst nightmares seems to be getting rice dry enough to take to the rice mill in the rainy season. Having given this matter some thought, and not wishing to pay for machinery and fuel to dry the rice, I consider a simple greenhouse to be a suitable solution. It only needs to be of light construction – ie. a bamboo frame, and clear plastic covering – and should be portable, such that it can be lifted away from the rice being dried. Again, if flooding is likely, the rice should be on a raised plinth, and suitably protected from water below it. This could be by the judicious use of straw bales and tarpaulin, for example.

Straw Bales.

The production of straw bales at harvest time is common practice in Western countries, but almost unheard of in Asia. Instead, after the harvest, the remaining straw and stubble are burned off. This is a tremendous waste of a useful resource. Straw bales can be easily stored for animal bedding, for building houses, for composting – they are really versatile. And a mechanical baler is not necessary. Look around on the Internet for instructions on building a baler to be operated manually.

A word about costs and profit.

The farmer with a large family which is expected to work in the fields for only board and lodging has serious advantages over those that must use employed labour for the same purpose. It therefore makes sense to grow the most expensive variety of rice possible, as this will command the highest price when sold. The amount of work is the same.

Finally, to those skeptics that don’t believe this is possible.

It most certainly is – we are doing it!

It started as a pilot project on one part of a rice field. The results were so encouraging, that the whole of the field was subsequently used. When the neighbouring farmers saw what was happening, they wanted to know how it was being done, and quickly joined in. When it came to buying the seed for Snorkel Rice, a group of farmers traveled together, as they could all see the benefits.

We just need to spread the word to bring these benefits to everyone. Please help if you can!

The World is Hungry, lets feed it!

PS. None of this has anything to do with genetically modified products whatsoever. If we can do so much without them, their possible value, (as yet unproven), becomes even more questionable.

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