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IRRI to provide technological support to Assam farmers

Guwahati, Mar 18:  The Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has agreed to provide technological support to Assam farmers for popularising water-resistant paddy varieties.

A delegation from IRRI recently visited the state’s flood-prone crop land and observed that Assam could easily become a rice-surplus state by reducing flood-induced crop damage and also contribute significantly to the nation’s food security, an official release said here today.

IRRI’s Director General, Robert Zeigler and other members of the delegation had a discussion with the state’s Agriculture Minister Nilamani Sen Deka and emphasised on local trials in agro-climatic zones for introducing and ensuring variety adaptability.

Zeigler stressed the need for “phase-wise strategic improvement of capacity building” so that stakeholders, especially the farming community, could have their own decision making power.

The IRRI developed Swarna SUB-1 variety of paddy has already been cultivated after the state procured two tonnes of seeds.

Submergence-tolerant paddy varieties assume importance here in view of the recurring damages caused to crops by floods.

Of the state’s net crop area of 28.11 lakh hectares, 4.93 lakh hectares happen to be chronically flood-prone.

Rice production in the state, spread over an area of 24.88 lakh hectares, during 2012-13 stood at 52.33 MT.

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India Northeastern State Assam Rice Farmers Achieve Higher Yields with Flood Tolerant Varieties

Rice farmers in the northeast Indian state of Assam have achieved yields of up to 3 - 4 tons per hectare using the Swarna Submergence-1 (SS-1) submergence-resistant paddy Seeds, which are an updated version of India's popular flood tolerant hybrid rice variety 'Swarna'.

The average rice yield in Assam stands at around 1.93 tons per hectare, while the national average during is around 3.5 tons per hectare. However, floods often destroy the entire rice crop in flood-prone regions of Assam.

The Assam Agriculture Department (AAD) began experimenting with the SS-1 seeds by distributing around 17,000 kilograms of seeds to farmers in the state's flood-prone districts during the June - July cultivation season in 2012. The state managed to produce 5.2 million tons of rice during FY 2012-13 (April – March) and farmers were impressed with this flood-tolerant variety. With increased output, the AAD has expanded the SS-1 variety usage to 40,000 hectares of land mostly in flood-affected areas. With the SS-1 seeds, the AAD expects to produce about 6.1 million tons in the FY 2013-14.

SS-1 seeds were developed by the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 2009. Scientists modified the 'Swarna' variety by introducing gene Sub1 (for submergence) that helps plants survive under water up to two weeks, yet give higher yields. The seeds have been tried in coastal districts of India's southern states Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, which are mainly rained lands and are prone to floods.

Scientists say the yield advantage of SS-1 variety increases as flood severity worsens and can increase the yield up to 66% even after 13 days of flooding. The SS-1 seeds can yield up to 3 - 3.5 tons per hectare when submerged for 13-15 days and up to 6 tons per hectare in normal conditions.

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Indian, Aus scientists working on genetically improved rice

Scientists from India and Australia have found that a native Australian grass growing in Queensland state could hold the key to ensuring the long-term viability of rice, a crop critical to global food security.

Deputy Director of Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, Sagadevan Mundree, said rice is one of the most important staple foods throughout the world but salinity and drought stresses were putting the crop's long-term future under enormous pressure.

Mundree heads a team of scientists working in partnership with scientists in India to determine whether strategies adopted by the Australian native resurrection grass could be used to genetically improve abiotic stress tolerance in rice. "QUT has developed a strategic partnership with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in New Delhi and the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) in Coimbatore in southern India," Mundree said.

The native Australian grass is called a "resurrection plant" because it can tolerate extreme environmental stresses, including severe drought, salinity, high temperature and high light-intensity stresses for prolonged periods and resurrect within 24-72 hours upon rehydration.

"There is an urgent need to develop more resilient varieties of rice that can cope with less water and are more tolerant of salinity stress," Mundree said.



Kerala paddy farmers expect a bonanza

Farmers in Palakkad, Alappuzha and Thrissur have pleasantly been surprised by what looks like a bumper paddy crop this season, but some of them, specially those in Palakkad, may not be able to reap the full benefits of the high price for paddy being offered by the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) which has put a quantity-per-hectare ceiling on procurement.

Farmers in Palakkad, who took to machine planting, have reported yields of about nine tonnes a hectare. However, Supplyco ceiling for procurement at Rs.19 a kg is 5.5 tonnes a hectare. But a Supplyco official said that farmers in Palakkad would be able to sell their entire harvest provided they produced a certificate of production from their respective agricultural officers.

The official said that the ceiling had been imposed to prevent cheaper paddy from neighbouring States like Tamil Nadu being sold to the corporation. Supplyco offers the highest procurement price for paddy in the country, the official claimed.

The high procurement price has made it attractive for unscrupulous elements to smuggle in paddy and sell it for a profit, passing the consignments as local produce. Though small farmers would not be able to engage in such operations, agents have been found indulging in it. Paddy sells between Rs.15 and Rs.16 a kg in the open market in Kerala.
Kole area

Farmers in Thrissur’s Kol areas have also reported higher than normal yields this season. Most of Kuttanad is expecting better yields this season despite the unusually dry conditions in December and January. Reports from the area, where harvesting is about a week old, said the yield is in the vicinity of 7.5 tonnes a hectare.

The Supplyco procurement ceiling is 7.5 tonnes a hectare in Kuttanad and eight tonnes a hectare for Thrissur Kol.

The high procurement price has made farmers rush to Supplyco. The corporation has procured more than 70,000 tonnes of paddy this season and about 30,000 tonnes of this is from Palakkad. Procurement in Alappuzha is more than 5,000 tonnes and in Thrissur it is more than 20,000 tonnes. Procurement in Kottyam district has gone up to more than 12,000 tonnes. Central to this season’s bumper crop is the Uma variety of paddy, developed by the Mankombu rice research station of Kerala Agricultural University and released in 1998.

A senior scientist at the Rice Research Station told The Hindu on Sunday that researchers were yet to develop a variety that would out-yield Uma. The variety was developed with the specific conditions in Kuttanad in mind, where excessive acidity and pest attacks are major problems.

The scientist said that yields have been up to eight tonnes a hectare during some of the past seasons and this year the crop has been bit of a surprise because the climatic conditions appeared to be adverse given that there were no rains in November-December. Occasional rain during these months helps wash out the excessive acidity in the soil.

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Eastern India can be country's rice bowl: Assocham

The country's eastern region has the tremendous potential to emerge as the country's 'rice bowl', a recent study industry body Assocham said.

The study titled 'Towards Second Green Revolution in Eastern India: A Road Map' also said the eastern region would be able to achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about ten per cent in paddy production, if the country manages to bridge the gap between potential yield and actual yield.

"The paddy production in the eastern region of India can reach about 670 lakh tonnes (LT) by 2017-18 from the current level of over 580 LT as the region holds tremendous potential to emerge as the 'Rice Bowl of India,' as every quintal increase in yield would push rice production by over two million tonnes," the study said.

West Bengal spearheads eastern India in paddy production to the tune of about 150 lakh MT followed by eastern UP (140 LT), Odisha (70 LT), Bihar (68 LT), Chhattisgarh (63 LT), Assam (47 LT) and Jharkhand (34 LT), it said.

According to the study, Odisha's paddy production may reach 82 LT in three to four years time period.

By 2017-18, the study predicted, Odisha can reach this feat through increased usage of high yielding varieties of seeds, improved soil drainage, spreading rice-fish culture and taking other such measures.

It also said that discouraging rice cultivation in marginal lands and diversifying in favour of oilseeds and pulses, utilisation of rice fallows are certain significant steps required to increase cropping intensity and crop productivity in Odisha.

In its study, Assocham has suggested that apart from rice suitable evaluation of promoting other crops like maize, pulses and oilseeds should be undertaken for optimum utilisation of land and local needs in the region.



Over 3,100 hectares to come under summer paddy

The State agriculture department has proposed to cover over 3,100 hectares under summer paddy cultivation for achieving the food production target in the district.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) technique is being recommended for this cultivation, as it demands less water for irrigation. Against the usual 1,500 hectares, the department has planned to cover 3,100 hectares in all the blocks except Avudaiyarkovil and Manamelkudi.
An average yield of six tonnes per hectare expected during the current summer cultivation season.— File Photo: B. Velankanni Raj
The nursery is raised for 14 days and the popular variety is 'BPT 5204'.

“Farmers have a liking for the variety, though other varieties could also be cultivated under the system,” K.M.Shajahan, Joint Director of Agriculture, told The Hindu . The summer cultivation has various unique features, including raised bed nursery technique.

It can be raised as a second crop in Cauvery Mettur Project (CMP) areas and requires only two kg of seeds for one acre of crop. The mechanical transplanting ensures uniform spacing of nine inches – between rows and plants.



India Average Wholesale Rice Prices Increase in February 2014

Average monthly wholesale rice prices in India increased to around Rs. 2,731 per quintal in February 2014, up about 1% from around Rs. 2,702 per quintal in January 2014, and up about 4% from around Rs.2,627 per quintal seen a year ago in February 2013, according to official sources.

In terms of USD per ton, average wholesale rice prices in India stand at about $440 per ton (using current exchange rates) in February 2014, up about 2% from around $429 per ton (using historical exchange rates) in January 2014, but down about 10% from around $488 per ton (using historical exchange rates) seen in February 2013.

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Rice Husk Can Fuel Power Plants in Rice Mills, Finds Study

Rice husk, which is mostly a waste product from rice milling, can be used to generate power in rice mills, according to a study by the Affiliated Renewable Energy Center, Central Philippine University (CPU-AREC).

The study on “Rice Husk potential as Energy Source in Panay, Philippines” finds that rice husk can be used to generate energy, which can be alternately used for other purposes like drying in the rice mills. According to Mr. Jeriel G. Militar, Project Director of CPU-AREC, approximately 290 kilograms of rice husk is obtained from a ton of paddy rice milled and it is usually left on paddy fields to be decayed or burned. Most of the mills face difficulty in disposing it. Though the rice husk is used as fuel for cook stoves, pottery kilns, ovens and dyers, its use is by far very limited.

According to the study, rice husk has high calorific value of about 3,000 kcal/kg and it is a renewable source of energy as well as a non-carbon fuel. Mr. Militar and team found that one ton of rice husk can produce approximately 726.46 Kilo watts of energy per hour and 82.93 megawatts of power. They recommend setting up of rice husk fueled power plants in rice mills.

However generating power from rice husk has some disadvantages. Rice husk is difficult to store because of its bulky nature and ash content from rice husk (17 - 26%) is much more than that from wood (0.2 - 2%) and coal (12.2%). The total cost of setting up plant and running it is pretty high. Mr.Militar and his team are identifying rice mills which are ready to invest in rice husk power plants in each municipality in the Panay province of the Philippines. However, the study will be useful in countries such as Pakistan, where power costs are high and supply is inconsistent.

The team is also considering recommendations of earlier studies on the subject. According to previous studies, direct combustion is recommended for most heat applications and gasification is recommended for small to medium scale applications. Already some rice mills in Nueva Ecija province are using 'Flatbed Paddy Dryer' using direct combustion and 'Flatbed Paddy Dryer' using gasifier. Similarly a rice mill in Isabela province has set up 1-MW rice husk fueled Power Plant and another mill in the same province has set up a 2- MW Power Plant.

The study also says that the Philippines government is providing various incentives for energy utilization of rice husk under the Renewable Energy Law.



India likely to export 18 mln tonnes rice, wheat in 2013/14

India is likely to export about 18 million tonnes of rice and wheat in 2013/14, the government's adviser on farm prices said, as the world's second-biggest producer of these grains looks for ways to handle another record crop.

Ashok Gulati also suggested India should release 15-20 million tonnes of the grains for open market sales to cut massive mounds of stocks and help ease food inflation.

India, the world's biggest rice and wheat producer after China, exported 22 million tonnes of the grains in the last fiscal year to March 31, 2013 after New Delhi lifted a four-year-old ban on overseas shipments of the staples in late 2011.

"Exports of 2012/13 and likely exports this year mean 40 million tonnes of shipments. You look at whatever historical data you have, India has never ever done that," said Gulati, chairman of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices.

Gulati has advocated regular exports of rice and wheat from India. Rising rice exports helped India replace Thailand as the world's top rice exporter and wheat shipments picked up at the expense of rival suppliers Russia and Ukraine.

Unlike wheat, India does not export rice from government warehouses but shipments totalled about 10 million tonnes in 2012/13 and Gulati said they may be 11 million tonnes this year.

Global wheat prices fell 25.6 percent to $6.05 a bushel in 2013 due to oversupply, with benchmark Chicago futures still hovering around that level.

Global rice supplies are seeing a sharp increase as the embattled government of Thailand rushes to liquidate its stockpiles in order to pay farmers and avoid further protests.

Benchmark Thai rice prices fell as much as 15 percent last week.


Despite its export push, India sits on huge stocks of grains, thanks to bumper harvests since 2007. It took steps to boost production after unfavourable weather conditions hit the 2006 wheat harvest, forcing India to import large quantities from Australia at sky-high prices.

Stocks at government warehouses are still 2.25 times more than targets and lack of storage means much rots away even though India tries to provide cheap food to about 800 million.

"We have been recommending to the government to immediately liquidate 15-20 million tonnes of rice and wheat. Holding on to such high stocks is unnecessary," said Gulati, who is about to leave office after a nearly three-year term as the adviser.

The government buys rice and wheat from local farmers at a fixed price which is raised every year to encourage production, build stocks to supply subsidised food and meet any emergency needs such as a sudden spike in prices.

Hefty production and higher purchases by the government inflate the subsidy bill, which the government has pegged at 1.15 trillion rupees ($18.53 billion). Food Minister K.V. Thomas has said the subsidy could touch 1.3 trillion rupees, a major worry for the government as it tries to rein in public finances.

Stocks are going to swell further as India's harvest from the current crop year to June 2014 is forecast to be a record 263.2 million tonnes of grains.

Despite rising production, local prices of grains have jumped because government purchases leave only a small surplus in the market.

Domestic prices of rice and wheat combined rose 11.42 percent in January from a year ago, helping to push up food inflation to 9.90 percent, government data showed.

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Paddy procurement centres at six places

Direct paddy procurement centres have been set up at six places in Srivaikuntam, Tiruchendur and Tuticorin taluks in the district.

Joint Director of Agriculture N.K. Dhakshinamoorthy said here on Monday that the centres had been opened at Srivaikuntam, Kurumbur, Nazareth, Vasavappapuram, Iruvappapuram and Kulayankarisal. The paddy procurement price had been fixed at Rs. 1,360 for one quintal of common variety and Rs. 1,415 for Grade –A variety.

Paddy harvesting was in progress at some places in the district. During ‘kar’ and ‘pisanam’ seasons last year, paddy was cultivated on 9, 863 hectares. Since the start of 2014, the crop had been raised on 1,781 hectares.

Paddy cultivation had been taken up under summer crop package as per a directive of Collector M. Ravikumar. Four blocks with potential were identified. Under the package, the government had set a target to cover 2,600 hectares at Srivaikuntam, Alwarthirunagari, Karungulam and some parts of Tuticorin. Owing to late planting in Tiruchendur, the harvest was expected by April. With just a month away, he said the officials were hopeful of achieving the target. He said 819 more hectares would be covered under this programme by the end of March.

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