Amid low paddy prices, rice farmers urged to focus on yield

With a drop in the paddy price from $4,500 per bag over two years ago to less than $3,000 per bag, farmers have been advised to focus on increasing their productivity so that their yields can become higher.

“Once your yields go up your cost automatically comes down. So that is one of the ways of surmounting the prices…,” says Extension Services Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), Kuldip Ragnauth.

In a recent interview with Stabroek News, he said the GRDB has been working with the farmers on a six-point plan where they provide on-field training.

During last year, the average paddy price for the first crop (spring) was around $2,700 to $2,800 while one miller in Region Six paid $40,000 per tonne or $3,000 per bag.

Allison Peters, Quality Control Manager and Kuldip Ragnauth, Extension Services Manager of GRDB

For the second crop (autumn) farmers received the same price, except for those in Region Two, Essequibo where they were only paid $1,700 to $2,200 per bag.

In terms of other support services for farmers, he said the GRDB has been offering fertilizer to farmers at a reduced price $5,500 per bag as compared to other suppliers that are selling at $6,000 per bag.

Quality Control Manager of the GRDB Allison Peters who was also present during the interview said prices have to do with the demand for rice.

Under the now ended PetroCaribe arrangement about 55,000 tonnes of rice and paddy per crop, was exported to Venezuela. The products used to be sent in 50 kg bags but that came to an end in 2015.

Millers continue to export rice to Venezuela and about 7,000 tonnes was sent last year. Peters said, “Because of the country’s economic condition, the rice is being sent in small packages, as they seem to want more ready-to-use rice.” These packages weigh from about one to 10 kg.

According to Peters, rice, as well as paddy is also being exported to 30 other countries with 500,000 tonnes shipped in 2016 out of a projected target of 517,000 tonnes.

In 2015, a total of 537,334 tonnes were exported and for this year, the projected amount is 590,000 tonnes.

White rice is currently being sold at US$400 to $430 per tonne but millers were enjoying a price of $500 to $510 per tonne from the Venezuelan market.

The Bahamas is the newest market and so far one container of rice was sent there. The product is also being shipped to Panama on a “government-to-government contract,” she said.

During last year, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo visited Mexico to arrange a market but it is just for the exportation of paddy. The negotiations have not been finalized but the Mexicans are expected to visit this month.

The GRDB and Guyana Rice Exporters and Marketing Association are in contact with the Mexican embassy, which has advised them to attend the trade fair in that country in March.

The visit would give them an opportunity to interact and meet with large-scale businesses and owners of shops and supermarket.

Peters noted that securing a market in that country does not only have to be through a government-to-government arrangement.

Asked about the feasibility of exporting paddy, she pointed out that paddy is actually the main product being exported and that 42 per cent of it was shipped in December 2016.

For that same period, a total of 31 per cent of white rice and eight percent of parboiled (brown rice) were exported.

Current crop

Ragnauth said that for the current crop, the GRDB had sent out an advisory for the sowing to commence in mid-November and for it to be completed by the end of December. However, due to the unavailability of water, most of the farmers started in the first week of December when the rainy weather started.

The GRDB had also asked the regional administrations and the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority to make water available for the farmers during that period.

The farmers of Black Bush Polder (BBP), in Region 6 where over 20,000 acres of rice is being cultivated, were the only ones to start the crop on November 1.

The advantage for the BBP farmers is that the pumps are located in that area and this crop they were able to access water for about three weeks before it went to the farmers in the front-land.

According to Ragnauth, “By the time the water reached the front-land [through pumping], the rain came and the farmers ended with flooding.”

Asked about some of the pumps being down for servicing during the period when the farmers needed water, he said “there are a few pumps available and some would still be working.”

He admitted that consequently, the farmers were not being able to access the full volume of water that was needed.

At the moment, sowing in BBP is 99 per cent completed and has “almost fit into the GRDB schedule. I am proud to say that BBP has come a far way.”

Ragnauth noted: “They used to sow at odd times of the year. While some farmers were sowing, some were harvesting but we were able to change the mindset of the farmers… Black Bush has come around full circle now.”

He was proud that it was now “one of the best rice producing areas” and the stigma of the area being known for negative activities, is being removed.

He said that over the years the GRDB “has deliberately targeted BBP for training and educational programmes about best practices for the industry.”

This was through the GRDB’s six-point training “which was important to get right with the Black Bush farmers,” as well as the application of fertilizer.

The training has also resulted in their yields jumping from 22 bags per acre to 35 bags per acre. “So that is the kind of stride and progress we have made in that area,” he boasted.

He said too: “Generally, we are seeing increased productivity in all the areas,” compared to “over five years ago when the yield was 26 to 27 bags per acre.”

There are also farmers who are reaping 50 bags per acre, and according to Ragnauth, the top yielding farmers are from Cane Grove, Mahaica where they produce an average of 42 bags per acre.

He pointed out that “drainage in that area is good and there is continuous removal of water from the fields so there is no chance of rice being affected by flooding. It would only be threatened if the rice is submerged in the fields for a long time.”

Flooding for this crop, he said, was more predominant in Region 2 and some parts of Region 5 but based on their surveys, no rice has been lost.

For the last crop, farmers in Region 6 suffered losses to about 50 acres of paddy, which could not be accessed for harvesting due to the inclement weather.

The production of “5.3 tonnes per hectare [which is reasonable for an autumn crop] was less than anticipated because the actual acreage sown was less than targeted. Two thirds of the acreage could not be sown.”

He explained that as a result of the “adverse weather condition during the ending of March/April, farmers in Region 6 sow later than those in other regions. So when they started harvesting the rains came. This caused the land and dams to become bad so farmers could not get to some of the land.”

Consequently, “Less rice was sown in 2016 for the autumn crop. Then for the spring crop, El Niño came and that resulted in less production as well.” In 2016 too, Perseverance in Region 5 suffered the most with 400 acres of rice being lost.

The good thing though, he said, is that “because of lots of sunshine during the flowering stages, the yields went up – 5.7 tonnes per hectare, equivalent to 37 bags per acre.

In spite of the “challenges with El Niño during the first crop and rainy weather during the second crop, rice did reasonable well.”

New variety

The GRDB is currently screening and testing a new variety of rice at the research station, called the Candidate Variety, which Ragnauth said “has the potential.”

This year they would conduct “on-farm trials” on farmers’ fields. “The large scale testing would be done for two years and once we [GRDB] finds that the data is good then it means that it reflects on the character that we are looking for.”

He added: “We have gone a far way because the on-farm trial is one stage ahead of the final release of the variety.”

A few years ago, the GRBD released the aromatic variety and they have seen an increase in the acreage that is being cultivated. The cultivation is being done in all of the regions, predominantly in Region 5.

According to Ragnauth, the feedback from consumers is satisfactory but he would like to see more involvement from the private sector to market the variety.

He noted that even though the aromatic variety has a longer duration than the regular rice, it does not require extra fertilizer and that farmers just have to know how to spread out the application of fertilizer.

As such, GRDB continues to play its part “by advising the farmers on how to grow it and it is catching on.”

He said they are also focusing on addressing issues including red rice and paddy bud. They are also trying to develop new strategies to address those problems.

Another problem is with the black tip rice and they are currently working to find out the cause and how it can be managed.

Apart from that, the board is also looking at developing value added products and are working with the Institute of Applied Science and Technology and the Guyana School of Agriculture “to come up with the composition of blended flours and rice flour. We are hoping to achieve that by the end of the year.”

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