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Author Topic: The Indian SRI record rice yields
MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 16:43
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I wanted to collect a few things about a story that came out over the weekend. It's been celebrated as the entire reason we don't need GMOs and chemicals. The lovely and talented EarthOpenSource team went so far as to call it the opposite of the Green Revolution:

Really? Let's have a closer look.

So the original story was in the Observer / Guardian called India's rice revolution

There were reportedly record breaking rice yields in this one state in India. That's great--I hope it's true. But I think it's important to understand what was actually used and how it was done. However, there seems to be little official information. All I can find is information from SRI proponents.

I did wonder what rice was being used, and asked John Vidal. But he did not answer. I found the information elsewhere, in this PDF: http://bit.ly/BiharRice.

The rices were:

Sumant Kumar planted the Bayer hybrid variety Arise-6444, while the other four farmers used Syngenta’s hybrid 6302.

Yes, that's right. Hybrids. From BigAg. {not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not the charming story implied by John Vidal.}

Let's also explore more of what was done:

Both the SRI and regular nursery were sown on June 20, 2011, with the seeds for both nurseries treated with Carbendazim (2 g/kg) for protection against seedborne diseases.

Again, fine--but let's acknowledge this chemical fungicide treatment.

And then we find out:

Both the SRI and the normal-practice fields received the same amounts of inorganic fertilizer, added as basal doses the day before transplanting, i.e., July 2 for the SRI field, and July 15 for the regular field. The applications of P and K were, respectively, 80 kg/ha of diammonium phosphate (DAP) and 40 kg/ha of potash. During the season, some N was applied as urea, at a rate of just 40 kg/ha, in split doses on July 18 and August 22, a relatively low rate of N supplementation.

I have no problem with this. But it's sort of green revolutiony, isn't it EarthOpenSource?

I also noted that some of the farmers appear to have used herbicide, in contrary to the sub-heading on the Guardian piece: "In a village in India's poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?"

The main weed problem for these farmers were broad-leaved weeds, and in the regular field a herbicide (2,4-D) was sprayed to control these, applied at a rate of 1.5 liters/ha. In Sumant Kumar’s SRI field, there was no chemical weed control --only soil-aerating conoweedings done at 13 days and 26 days after transplanting.

2,4D? You don't say....Now--this appears to be the control/regular field. But it's odd to me that they call out only 1 of the 5 farmers as not having used herbicide. It's possible the other's didn't, but the wording that states "the main weed problem for these farmers..." makes me think it did affect them. I'm not sure there though.

Another thing to note:

No chemical crop protection measures were taken as no insect pests or diseases or rodents were observed in either the SRI or regular fields.

Excellent--but note the control fields had no issues either. So it wasn't special to SRI.

Just one other thing--it's not clear to me that the full monty is being provided to visitors. From the Vidal piece (and this is where I got they impression it was all organic):

Last month Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz visited Nalanda district and recognised the potential of this kind of organic farming, telling the villagers they were "better than scientists". "It was amazing to see their success in organic farming," said Stiglitz, who called for more research. "Agriculture scientists from across the world should visit and learn and be inspired by them."

Now, all of the information I got beyond the Vidal piece was from one of the cheerleaders of this SRI system. Norman Upoff is one of the authors of that "Agriculture Today" June 2012 piece.

Other issues with SRI have been examined:

I have seen the dispute but have not gone deep into the literature. Of course it would be great to have another year's results too. These were 2011 apparently--Vidal didn't mention that in the original piece but popped into the comments to note that. So I hope we'll see more.

Placeholder for other miscellaneous stuff I find related to this:

MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 17:13
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For the record--John Vidal replies to me.

That's right--the fact that they were hybrids, the fact that they had some types of resistance, not important. As if.

Magical thinking is a sad thing.

MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 18:02
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More details, but hard to assess the quality of the source here. Again seems to be SRI cheerleaders, but discussion format: SRI-India Bimonthly update (PDF)

http://sdtt-sri.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/SRI-India-Bimonthly-Update-Nov-Dec-2011.pdf

The concerned farmer (Sumant Kumar) is a big farmer and has applied higher inputs Azospirillum, Azotobactor, PSB, trichoderma, Organic and chemical fertilizers and provided all these in his field.

This piece has some very interesting other discussion. One is that reporting record yields like this can actually cause backlash if other farmers don't see this type of impact.

And there's suggestion that this system hurts wetland birds:

http://www.livemint.com/Politics/hXGlVZf7G7TFkvqAhaXBLL/Paddy-fields-put-birds-to-flight.html

Apart from this, the system of rice intensification (SRI), which is practiced in many areas, advocates planting the cereal at lower densities, thereby reducing the cover for birds that breed and forage in fields.

Chemicals are bad as well, but let's again just recognize even possibly more benign systems can have consequences.

Anastasia-
Bodnar
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Posts: 256
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 18:09
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Couldn't possibly be a combination of improved seed and both chemical and physical agronomic methods, could it? ;)

I also wonder about all of the "women laborers" they employed. I don't know about you, but hand transplanting thousands of rice plants sounds like one of the worst possible things one could be sentenced to do. I wonder what they were paid.

MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 18:26
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Yeah, and "back breaking" is not a feature that appealed to me from the Guardian piece either.

But sure--I'm all for improved everything. But the fact that the seeds are hybrids and have certain characteristics has got to matter. Resistance, lodging, etc.

Rachael-
Ludwick
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 125
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 18:32
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Regarding backlash from farmers who don't get the record yields, that's actually talked about in that Borlaug biography (Our Daily Bread). Yields are always variable and Borlaug apparently was worried farmers would take some of his earlier still experimental varieties and when they didn't get the great yields reported would reject the project.

Regarding labor, it's my understanding that even the usual form of rice paddy planting (not this SRI method) is pretty labor-intensive with seedling transplant. How is it done in, e.g., California on Lundberg farms?

Rachael-
Ludwick
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 125
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 18, 2013, 18:48
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And now let me do some searching myself ... Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lundberg_Family_Farms) claims that Lundberg has around 30% of "eco" farmed rice that isn't organic but uses ... wait for it ... selected insecticides and herbicides which means less labor and ability to compete in the conventional market (though the citation link is broken). This link -- http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=1208&page=398 -- says they have to hire seasonal workers twice a year (in the mid 1980s less than ten) which to my mind suggests they must hire more migrant labor now (since it's California) that do the backbreaking parts done by women in a lot of the developing world.

MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 19, 2013, 10:17
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Sadly, John has misled other journalists too. So it wasn't just my take that the claim the Vidal piece made was this was an organic system.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2013_02/sunday_morning_reads_2043044.php

Hat tip to the (other sadly misleading) piece at DailyKos for this: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/02/18/1188013/-Another-Revolution-in-Agriculture-Underway

Image

EDIT: adding further evidence of how misleading the Vidal piece was: all organic! and further retweeted

MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 23, 2013, 08:04
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In a fascinating new twist, John Vidal has had to print a follow-up piece:
India's rice revolution: Chinese scientist questions claim of massive harvests

Top scientist scoffs at claims that fewer seeds plus less water can lead to better rice crop results

You don't say? This *again* is someone who is a proponent of intensification, yet the story does not align with the presentation we have from Vidal.

Yuan told the Chinese press after seeing the Observer Food Monthly article: "I introduced the intensification method to China myself. It could increase yields by 10-15% in low-yield fields, but it's not possible for fields that are already producing relatively high yields."

This time as least Vidal admits the seeds are hybrids (but not whose they are), and is very cagey about the way he says

"However, it is now being shown to work with many crops, often in conjunction with organic farming."

Well well well. We live in interesting times.

MaryM
Elite Hybrid
Posts: 437
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Post Re: The Indian SRI record rice yields
on: February 23, 2013, 10:40
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And Vidal tricks Tom Laskawy too:
Miracle grow: Indian farmers smash crop yield records without GMOs

"They did it completely sans-GMOs or even chemicals of any kind."
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