"Planting Seeds of Hope for a Better Guinea"

Friday, December 29, 2006

I. The Rice Production Cycle

There are two distinct planting and production programs used to produce rice around the world. The Asian program is to transplant seedling rice plants into flooded paddys that have been thoroughly worked into a clean slurry free of grasses and weeds. The Western rice production scheme involves planting rice seeds directly into the soil for germination and controlling grasses and weeds through chemical means early in the growth phase.

The Asian way is labor intensive; the Western way is capital intensive. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Most rice currently produced in Africa is carried out using poor execution of the Asian production scheme. This is largely due to a lack of investment in field design and irrigation, which collectively are the basic resources for successful rice production.

Amerigui Plantation will employ the Western rice cultivational program exclusively, which necessitates the precision landgrading of all fields, installation of a high-volume irrigation system, an extensive investment in machinery and maintenance facilities, use of a turboprop cropduster, etc. While very capital intensive, the naturally flat terrain with its existing canal system lends itself well to Western-style land and water resource development, all on a scale that is of economic size.

Dry seeding of rice can be achieved in several different ways. These are commonly referred to as: 1) pure no-till, 2) no-till into a stale seedbed, 3) conventional drilling, and 4) conventional broadcasting. Each is acceptable if used within an appropriate context of field and weather conditions. The soil type, weed control program, weather, field conditions, previous crop, available planting equipment, etc. all play roles in which planting scheme is best for a given field on a given day.

The above photo is of a 330-hp 4WD tractor pulling a 41' Case IH 4900 field cultivator. This implement is capable of performing primary and intermediate tillage, depending on level of residue from the previous crop. C-shanks aggressively lift and till the soil, while the coil tine harrow at the rear provides further pulverization, separates residue from the soil, and levels the seedbed. A primary tillage field cultivator is a very versatile tool and can be found on most Arkansas rice farms. A cultivator of this type will be used on the Amerigui Plantation property.

This is another photo of the same primary tillage field cultivator being used in different field conditions. The field pass pictured above is the first of the planting season and is being made in rice stubble from the previous crop. Note the contrast in appearance to the first photo, which was a field pass being made as an intermediate tillage pass.

This is a bridge-type landplane, which is used to maintain a very flat--but well-drained--field for rice production. The wheelbase of the landplane is 80' in length, which allows the blades to detect minute highs and lows in the field and correct these as it is being pulled across the field. The landplane is about 20' wide and the rear wheels are steered by a cable system mimicking the track made by the front wheels. As might be imagined, moving this landplane from field to field requires good operator judgement and field/road design.

This is a float-type landplane, which also has three angled blades that level the soil surface. While it does perform some landplaning services, a major function is the preparation of a desireable seedbed that is level, free of clods, firm, and retains moisture in the seed planting zone. Collectively, these conditons provide the best assurance of a complete stand of healthy rice seedlings.

These photos were taken in May 2006 during the field trials of the John Deere 9200 4WD tractor purchased and reconditioned for use in Guinea. A float-type landplane will be used on the Amerigui Plantation project, although the shipment of this huge implement presents many logistical challenges.

This is a photo of dry rice seed being augered into the no-till drill for planting into the soil. Row spacing for rice drills is about 6"-7" in width. No-till drills may be used in a variety of seedbed conditions and have become standard equipment on most Arkansas rice farms. This equipment technology has evolved primarily in the past ten years or so, and will also be used in Guinea. Arkansas farmers generally choose from among about ten varieties from which to plant each season, each offering its own promise of solutions to agronomic challenges, market demand, and profit potential.

A closer view of the 30' wide John Deere 750 no-till drill. Its use in the well-prepared conventional seedbed pictured above is testament to the versatility of this planting tool.

This photo was taken about 25 days after planting, and about two weeks after seedling emergence. Irrigation levees are installed immediately after planting so that rice in the levees will share the same development pace and maturity as rice in the paddy area.

This clean, vibrant stand of rice is about four weeks old and is ready for final herbicide treatments, application of 50-60% of the season's nitrogen (generally in the form of urea), and flooding of the paddys.

This photo is of herbicide being applied to the rice prior to flooding. The cropduster is owned and operated by Rusty Cartillar, of Cartillar Flying Service, located near Fisher, Arkansas.

Rusty keeps the plane about 6-8' above the field elevation to achieve proper spray coverage of the grasses and weeds and to minimize drift onto adjacent fields. The cropduster can spray about 30 acres per load and cruises over the field at around 130 knots. A cropduster will be sent to Amerigui Plantation once planted acreage reached an economically justifiable level, which will likely be about the fourth season.

This is an irrigation riser valve that releases water into the rice field. Amerigui Plantation will have several miles of 400 mm (about 16") diameter underground PVC irrigation pipe installed. The pipelines will be supplied with irrigation water from about 10 turbine pumps to be strategically installed in the canal system. Diesel engines will power the irrigation pumps.

This rice field is being flooded. The purpose of the flood is to blanket the nitrogen, which minimizes volatilization. Another equally important purpose is to prevent grasses and weeds from germinating and competing with the rice crop. The yield and profit potential of a rice crop is heavily determined during the first six weeks following seedling emergence, since this is when the stand is being established, weeds are controlled, and most fertilizer has been applied.

An irrigation riser releasing water into the rice field. Most risers are placed on the perimeter of the field to minimize interference with field tillage and harvest operations.

Irrigation water flowing from one paddy elevation to the next lower paddy elevation. Irrigation levees are installed on 2 1/2" interval changes in field elevation. Laser transmitters and receivers are used to determine and mark the positions of the irrigation levees. A GPS system will be used at Amerigui Plantation, which will be the first of its kind on the African continent.

Advancing forward about 6-7 weeks, the rice plant has completed its vegetative growth stage of developement and is well into its reproductive phase. Rice heads have just appeared above the canopy in the above photo.

Rice grains are being filled with a milky substance, which hardens into a mature rice kernel. Once the heads become heavy with milk and turn over from their own weight, you know harvest is but two or three weeks away.

Another view of a maturing rice field. The erect flag leaves will start desicating as physiological maturity approaches. Mechanical harvest commences once leaves have dried and rice kernels have fully matured.

This photo shows about 300 acres of rice at maturity. Kernel moisture is about 17-18% and the tips of the leaves have become dry and a bit brittle, allowing for acceptable separation of the grain from the chaff.

A view of the field being harvested from the operator's perspective of the harvest machine. Modern rice harvest machines typically use 25' wide headers. Field travel speed is about 2.0 to 2.5 miles per hour, or a decent walking speed.

Rice being gathered, cut, and fed into the harvest machine for threshing. Note the full stand of rice, freedom from weeds and grasses, and uniformity of the field conditions. All these are essential for profitable commercial rice production.

Once the rice hopper is full, it is transferred to a rice cart and augered onto waiting trucks. About 350 bushels, or about 7 metric tons of paddy, are unloaded during each transfer to the cart.

The above photos show the importance of productivity and time managment. The rice cart is driven alongside the harvest machine and the unloading process takes place while both machines remain in motion. The two operators must have good judgement and skill to accomplish this feat without damaging the equipment, spilling grain, or wasting valuable harvest time.

Rice being loaded onto articulated hopper-bottom tractor trailers. The truck will deliver the paddy rice to grain drying and storage tanks. Rice must be dried to about 11-12% moisture for safe storage until milled.

Photo of typical truck and trailer used to deliver rice to drying and storage tanks.