Mechanization and hybrid rice can deliver a debilitating one-two punch that will stun farming ordeals. First punch: the use of machines contributes to precision farming and helps farmers to be more efficient in their activities. Second punch: hybrid rice increases yields by 15% resulting in higher profitability and productivity.
Just like in boxing, preparation before a match is crucial. Seed production becomes critical. Hybrid seed is produced from two parents unlike inbred that can reproduce itself through inbreeding or self-pollination. From the seeding of parental lines, transplanting them in specific row ratio and direction, roguing, application of gibberellic acid (GA3), flag leaf-clipping, supplementary pollination, harvesting and threshing – all these require complicated yet systematic techniques.
Here’s the rub: most, if not all, of these processes are not mechanized. Dr. Alex Rigor of DuPont Pioneer Philippines explained that there are four aspects in which a highly mechanized seed production pursuit is of great advantage: faster, easier, more uniform quality and larger volume of product.
PhilRice Engr. Eden Gagelonia said a mechanical device that helps the farmers become more efficient in seed production is needed, particularly in supplementary pollination. “The farmers have to do it by rope-pulling to shake the pollen. I hope that a mechanical device will be invented so that farmers will no longer do it manually,” she added.
Dr. Frisco Malabanan of SL Agritech Corporation said, “developing a machine for supplementary pollination is needed preparatory to the limited labor availability in the future.” Hybrid rice production is continuously expanding in different parts of the country and labor availability is becoming a problem in areas where synchronous planting is widely practiced.
Aside from supplementary pollination, harvesting and application of inputs are best mechanized.
Francisco Cerdana, a hybrid rice farmer and seed grower from Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat said that a harvester and mechanical dryer can help seed growers produce quality seeds.
“I can never forget drying my hybrid seeds in front of an electric fan because of the bad weather. That was really difficult especially as the process was not yet mechanized,” he said in Filipino.
Rigor said mechanization should start from sowing until harvest, fertilizer, and/or pesticide application and if needed, GA3.
“Harvesting of A-line in hybrid rice seed production can also be mechanized after manually cutting the R-line,” Malabanan added.
So what lies ahead? What’s the future of hybrid rice in terms of mechanization? “I think if government regulators will allow for direct seeding in seed production that would be one big step in mechanization,” Rigor said.
“Mechanization will be very important in hybrid rice production, particularly if we can expand planting up to a million hectares, which is the target to attain rice sufficiency. We can lower production losses and costs to make us competitive in rice production,” Malabanan said.
To help attain the target, Philippine Rice Research Institute will host the first National Hybrid Rice Congress in Nueva Ecija on April 3-5. It is organized by the Department of Agriculture (DA) in partnership with private hybrid rice companies in the Philippines. Yuan Longping, father of Hybrid Rice, 2001 Ramon Magsaysay awardee and China’s revered national treasure, will be the key note speaker.
With the theme, Bigas na Sapat, Binhing Hybrid ang Kabalikat, the congress will bring together key industry players to help develop strategies to strengthen the hybrid rice industry in the Philippines. This event supports the Department of Agriculture’s Food Staples Sufficiency Program and the National Year of Rice 2013 advocacies.
In the future, when mechanization and the use of hybrid become mutually inclusive and result in smart farming, then we would smell not just a one-two punch but a knockout of many farming woes.