Viability of directly sown paddy rice
The purpose of the project is to test the viability of directly sown rice in a cold climate. The project will test different methodologies of directly sown paddy rice, and compare them to transplanted paddy rice. The main form of analysis for the project comes in cost–benefit analysis, largely based on labor and yield data.
This project is being conducted at Wild Folk Farm in Benton, Maine. The project is led by the farm manager, Ben Rooney, with help from Caragh Fitzgerald, as a technical advisor. Unfortunately, this summer, due to dry conditions and bird predation, we had a crop failure. The experiment will need be re-conducted next year.
Three different planting methods were conducted in two different water management strategies (saturation, flooding). The first planting method followed the practice of directly sowing rice in rows with more spacing, similar to SRI (System of Rice Intensification) practices, with 12 lbs./acre. The second planting method followed a broadcast treatment where plants are spaced randomly and closer together, similar to most commercial grain operations, at 80 lbs./acre. In the third planting method, we transplanted the rice, following the guidelines of the Akaogi “Rice Growing Manual”. All in all, there were six different treatments, with three different replications of each treatment, spread across six paddies.
We devoted one entire paddy to broadcasting the rice, and one paddy to directly sowing the rice with a row seeder from India. The purpose of the row seeder was to test out the equipment and compare the row seeding method on a larger and more anecdotal scale, as well as use them as a demonstration and outreach plot for people to see the differences between directly sowing rice and transplanting rice. We grew transplanted rice in the remaining paddies.
Outreach took a few different forms this season. We were able to film and take pictures of the transplanting and sowing methods, with the hope of disseminating this information online at the end of the study. We also held two rice work parties, which included tours and discussion of directly sown rice. “MOFGA Quarterly” published an article I wrote on the project as well.
We were able to test out the direct sowing equipment and broadcasting methods. The rice was directly sown on May 7 – 15. Prior to directly sowing, we made sure all of the paddies were full of water and drained them upon sowing. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any rain for 4 weeks after the rice was directly sown. Normally, the pond refills with water throughout May. Without rain, and as we used much of the water to make sure the paddies were filled prior to sowing (for weed control) we were not able to irrigate all of the paddies. Only one block from the 12 that were directly sown led to any rice sprouting and production, so the experiment was abandoned by the end of the month. This experiment will be conducted again next year, with modifications to help with water supply if we have another dry spring.
Sowing and transplanting footage was documented throughout May. We held a Transplanting Work Party and Tour May 28 and a Harvest Work Party on September 24. Over 40 people attended each event.
We were able to test out equipment from India. We used a Cono–Weeder, a human powered weed cultivator from India, on three week intervals in two different paddies, for six weeks. We planned to use it in dry and wet conditions, although learned immediately that it only works under flooded conditions for very small weeds, and for blind cultivation. The Cono-Weeder has no effect on established weeds, and we found wheel hoes and scuffle hoes work better for wed management. It does stir up the soil, similar to ducks, which has been documented in the “Power of Duck” as useful for weed suppression and nutrient availability. Again this is all anecdotal, as we stopped the experiment after the end of May, and ceased recording and comparing labor between our treatments. The Row Seeder also seemed to work, as it dropped seeds into a saturated paddy. Although, as nothing sprouted, we received no results.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Our rice is normally soaked for roughly 7 days before it starts to sprout. We sowed it into the ground 1-2 days before sprouting, so as to not damage any newly formed sprouts. The plan was for either rain water or water from our pond to help saturate the soil after sowing the crop, although due to dry weather, most of the paddies dried up, or at least didn’t go beyond saturation. This demonstrates that water immersion, not saturation, is key for the rice until it sprouts.
Furthermore we also noticed Redwing Blackbirds and other grassland birds were probing into the soil directly where we directly sowed the crop. This could also be why we had such limited germination. The block with a successful rice crop was in the lowest paddy, and it happened to have some standing water and saturation during the 2 weeks following the crop sowing.
While anecdotal, the rice in this block yielded 11 pounds, which extrapolates to 2100 pounds/acre. The transplanted rice yield extrapolated to 3000 pounds/acre. Both where measured with a 15% moisture content.
The experimental layout will be consolidated to 1-2 paddies in 2017 in order to help irrigate these treatments if need be. We had our best success with directly sown rice in 2015, before this experiment began. We used rice straw as a light mulch over the directly sown seeds, and as dryness and bird pressure seem to be an issue, we plan to incorporate a mulching treatment into the experiment, which means we will probably only use one water management strategy so as to not have too many different treatment combinations.
Associate Extension Professor
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
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Augusta, Maine 04330
Office Phone: 207-622-7546