Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Philippine agriculture professionals learn to use laser-guided land leveling for improving rice production

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—Agricultural technicians and engineers from selected regional field units of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) participated in a course on laser-guided land leveling (photo). It is a climate-smart farming technology that can reduce water use and boost rice productivity.

The training consisted of lectures, intensive hands-on activities, and field exercises on conducting topographic field surveys and operating a laser-guided land leveling system. A separate module on tractor driving and operation was also provided to ensure that participants will be able to drive and operate a four-wheel tractor, one of the most important components in the laser-leveling system.

In unleveled rice fields, farmers spend three times more water than needed. There is also a 5-10% yield reduction due to uneven maturing of plants and an increased weed population. A flat surface ensures water reaches every part of the field and reduces waste from water-logging and run-off. Laser leveling is much more effective and faster at ensuring a flat, even surface than traditional land leveling.

“In Davao, farmers level their fields manually using a board," said Shynettee Clide Peralta, an agriculturist from Region 11 and focal person of the farm mechanization initiatives of the office. "I thought the practice was good enough. However, in 2013, the DA purchased several laser-leveling units, which I was not very confident to use. This training has helped me become confident in using the technology. We can now transfer the proper use of this technology in the five provinces of our region.”

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been using laser-guided land leveling since the 1990s, according to Martin Gummert, senior scientist at IRRI’s Postharvest Development Unit. “I am quite happy that the Philippines is now interested in laser leveling technology,” Gummert said. “In India, many poor farmers are benefiting from the technology. Laser leveling is a cost-saving technology, which offers a lot of benefits compared with traditional land leveling.”

According to a recent study on the impact of laser-guided land leveling in rice-wheat systems in Haryana and Punjab states of northern India, an additional annual production of 699 million kg of rice and 987 million kg of wheat, valued at an extra USD385 million per year, can be achieved if half of the area planted to the rice-wheat rotation were laser-leveled. The study concluded that farmers can earn around an additional USD145 per hectare annually from water and energy savings. The study was conducted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the Borlaug Institute for South Asia, and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security.

However, Gummert emphasized that acquiring the laser-leveling technology is just the first step. “If you have any influence in purchasing, buy the right equipment from a good supplier with adequate after-sale service,” he advised. “We have seen many cases where laser-leveling equipment was not used because no after sales services or training were provided.”

The laser-leveling training course was conducted on 31 May to 3 June by the IRRI Postharvest and Mechanization Unit in cooperation with the Rice Science Academy and with support from the project, Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint. The course, offered twice annually, was facilitated by Carlito Balingbing, senior associate scientist; Eugene Castro, senior manager; and Joseph Sandro, assistant scientist.

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