Farmers working in rice fields in the Philippines. © Press Association Images
Farmers working in rice fields in the Philippines. © Press Association Images

Direct seeding of rice can cut labour costs

25 February 2016

Direct seeding can help reduce high labour costs in rice farming, according to the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines.

The department’s Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) said that direct seeding, where pre-germinated seeds are sown directly onto the soil surface, could be done by dry or wet seeding and did not require seedbed preparation.

Transplanting, the method typical in Asia, involves transferring seedlings from a nursery into wet fields. The method better controls problems with weeds but is more labour intensive. Direct seeding involves sowing seeds directly onto dry land and ploughing or broadcasting them into irrigated fields.

Direct-seeded rice matures earlier than transplanted rice, reducing labour and expense for crop establishment and time spent on crop management, it said.

A recent study published by PhilRice looked at the country’s ability to compete in the rice market with other south east Asian countries. It concluded that labour in the Philippines was costly.

In irrigated areas of the Nueva Ecija province, labour accounted for 35% of the total production cost where farmers spend 3.76 Philippine pesos on hired labor to produce a kilogram of paddy.

The most costly farm activities were crop establishment, harvesting, and threshing, according to the report.

PhilRice calculated that 4.42 pesos is spent on labour for every kilo of transplanted rice planted, while 3.28 pesos is spent on direct-seeded rice. With the direct-seeding method, farmers can save up to 1.14 pesos on labour for every kilo of rice they produce and 23-man days for every hectare of their field, it said.

PhilRice agronomist Myrna Malabayabas said: “The dry direct-seeding method is more commonly used in rain-fed and upland areas. It involves sowing of pre-germinated seeds on dry soil surface and then incorporating the seeds either by ploughing or harrowing.

"Wet direct-seeding, on the other hand, is practiced during dry and wet seasons in irrigated and rain-fed areas. It is done either through broadcasting or drilling pre-germinated seeds with the use of a drum-seeder on a wet, well-levelled paddy.”

Managing weeds is one of the challenges in using the direct-seeding method, especially in areas where there is an absence of water which usually suppresses their growth. But savings from the labour cost can offset the expenses in weed and pest control.

“When integrated crop management is followed properly, the optimum yield is comparable to that of transplanted method,” Malabayabas said.

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