Sunday, October 19, 2008

Going aerobic for dry yield

New Straits Times (Malaysia): IN three large green fields in the north of the country, wet padi plants are doing something strange - they're thriving without the usual foot or so of standing water. The soil in these trial fields are kept moist by whirring sprinklers but the amount of water used is far less than when a field is flooded.

Just how unusual is this? Very unusual, when you consider that irrigated agriculture in Malaysia uses three-quarters of the total fresh water supply and 90 per cent of that is devoted to rice cultivation, explains plant ecophysiologist Dr Mohd Yusoff Abdullah.

Mardi's rice engineering division has been growing the padi on an experimental basis at its centre in Seberang Prai, in the sugar cane growing region of Perlis and in the tobacco growing part of Kelantan. And it's a crucial move at a time when water catchment areas are dwindling and there is irregular rainfall for storage, says Yusoff.

Furthermore, irrigation facilities are very expensive to build and maintain. Increased competition for water from growing industry and an expanding population only adds urgency to the project. So, one way to save water is through aerobic rice cultivation -- where rice is grown as a dry field crop rather than in flooded fields.

"Besides, water resource is going to be vulnerable with climatic change. Crop adaptation to limited water or too much water needs to be looked into," says Yusoff, who heads Mardi's Strategic Resource Research Centre. The centre focuses on climate change and on adapting rice to climate change….

Rice plant (Oryza sativa). Photograph taken at the Jardin d'Éden botanical park, shot by Damien Boilley, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

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