Saturday, November 1, 2014

Science and policy snippets from IRC2014 (October 31)

by the IRRI communication team

Genes bearing marks from the environment

Prof. John Colbourne of the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, gave a plenary talk at IRC2014 on environmental genomics. He discussed genetic mechanisms related to organisms' responses to environmental conditions.

Colbourne shared selected results of his work with freshwater crustacean Daphnia, in applying genomics to determine how the effects of their environment are “encoded” in their genes.  Rapid technological improvements to access this “memory” of populations promises to transform how the health of the environment is monitored and protected.

Better understanding of the genetic repertoire of a species and its interaction with the environment can help decision makers develop sound policies for environmental protection and in other areas, such as health, medicine, food security, energy, waste management, and natural resource conservation.

Drip irrigation and direct seeding – a sound technology mix

Puddling or wet tillage, defined as the mixing of soil and water in a rice culture, has traditionally been the method of preparing rice fields before transplanting. This practice, which accounts for up to 30 percent of the production cost of rice, effectively controls weeds and enhances soil nutrient availability.

But in a workshop entitled New Paradigms of Growing Rice to Address Emerging Shortages of Water and Labor at IRC2014, J.K. Ladha cited that cultivation systems are now shifting to direct seeded rice (DSR) or no tillage farming. This shift gives scope to drip irrigation as a viable water management option.

In his experiment conducted in Punjab, India, Dr. P. Soman said drip irrigation in DSR conserved irrigation water and reduced energy use for pumping water by up to 60 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Coupled with fertigation (fertilizer application through the irrigation system), rice yield increased by 20 percent as more tillers per hill and more grains per panicle were produced. Similar observations were shared by Dr. Palanisami in his field trials in Andhra Pradesh. Dr. Rakesh Sharda asserted that drip irrigation is beneficial especially in the case of Punjab where ground water is overexploited. Through drip irrigation, 25% of the water table can be saved.

While field research has shown good results, Soman proposed potential research interests, which include identification of rice varieties most suitable for the drip-fertigation method, multi-location trials to cover different rice growing conditions, and standardization of fertigation schedules for high productivity.

Accuracy in satellite maps aid in policymaking

Remote-sensing technology provides in-season crop information to policymakers and researchers in the form of “rice maps”. These maps can aid in decision making and policy formulation.

Maps generated through this technology indicate areas where rice is grown, number of crop seasons, and methods of cultivation. Unlike “traditional” image-based satellite maps that are not able to penetrate through clouds, remote sensing imagery is radar-based, can penetrate through clouds, and is hence available regardless of weather conditions.

Presenters from Europe, Africa and Asia discussed the state of the art of remote sensing technology at the scientific sessions of IRC2014. The following topics were presented: 1) Remote sensing for food security, by David Kaatrud; 2) Operational crop monitoring and yield forecast base on Earth observation satellites, by Anond Snidvongs; 3) Asian rice crop mapping for G20 GEO-GLAM, by S. Takashima; 4) Remote sensing and crop model application for rice yield monitoring, by Tri Setiyono; 5) Remote sensing-based infromation and insurance for crops in emerging economies, by Francesco Holecz; 6) An automatic approach to analyze optical satellite imagery time series for rice monitoring and status assessment: applications in yield estimation in Senegal and rapid assessment of typhoon damages in Philippines, by Marco Boschetti; and 7) Mapping rice and rice growing environments in West Africa using remote sensing and spatial modelling tools, by Sander Zwart.

Around 1,500 participants from 69 countries are attending the 4th International Rice Congress, or IRC2014, at the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre (BITEC).

IRC2014 is being held under the patronage of the Royal Government of Thailand, specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and is touted as the “Olympics of rice science,” being the largest gathering of rice science and industry held every four years. 

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