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Rice Today Vol. 12, No. 3 Rice Survivor: IRRI's own reality show

Rice Today Vol. 12, No. 3 Rice Survivor: IRRI's own reality show

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Published by Rice Today
by Bianca Paula Ferrer
Rice Today Vol. 12, No. 3 (July-September 2013) issue
by Bianca Paula Ferrer
Rice Today Vol. 12, No. 3 (July-September 2013) issue

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Published by: Rice Today on Jun 28, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Scientists and sta at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) took on the challengeo personally growing rice in the feld 
Rice Survivor: IRRI’s own reality show
Bianca Paula Ferrer
diverse array of 20 IRRI scientistsand scholars gathered in thegreat outdoors of the IRRIExperiment Station inDecember 2012 to take upa 6-month-long farmingchallenge aptly called RiceSurvivor. Divided into fourteams, they competed tosee who could producethe highest yielding rice
crop most eciently and
sustainably. This uniqueproject could be called
IRRI’s rst reality show.
“On their relatively smallpatch of land (1,240–1,600square meters each), the fourRice Survivor teams had to plantheir land preparation, come up witha water management regime, sowseeds or transplant seedlings, lookout for pests and diseases, hand-pullsome weeds, and decide on variousmanagement approaches to use,”said Nicola Wunderlich, agronomyextension specialist at IRRI’s TrainingCenter. “They then had to harvesttheir crop and compare results.“They had to plan the seasonahead including all the steps involvedin between,” she said. “Participantsrecorded the sources of informationthat they used in making their cropmanagement decisions. We especiallywanted to know how much IRRI’sRice Knowledge Bank (RKB) washelpful for them.”According to Rice Survivor co-organizer Katie Nelson who is alsoan agronomy extension consultant atIRRI, “In its current state, the RKB is agreat source of technical information.It's just like a textbook—useful forstudents and researchers. “It explains
rice knowledge
on pages 36-37 of
Vol. 8, No. 3).
Meet the survivors
The four teams of ve persons
each imaginatively namedthemselves:
(Filipinofor strong),
 (Filipino for comfortable),the Double TroubleMakers, and the FutureTechs.The men and womenteam members were amix of nationalities (seven
countries) and scientic
 backgrounds, but with noexperience in actually growing arice crop. Their disciplines includedmolecular biology, social science,geography, education, computerscience, and horticulture.Matatag team members hailedfrom India, Myanmar, USA,and the Philippines. “We chosewetland preparation because it’straditional and we thought it would be a good experience for us,” said Jason Beebout, a consultant at IRRIcurrently working with the CerealSystems Initiative in South Asia-Bangladesh project.Members of Team Hayahay brought a wide range of experiencesto the competition. “We picked
certied seed of the Philippine
rice variety NSIC Rc 222 that was bred at IRRI,” said Adam Sparks,a postdoctoral fellow and memberof IRRI’s Geographic InformationSystems unit. “Our yield goal wasan ambitious 7 tons per hectare,”he added. “We did traditionaltransplanting and traditional primarydry tillage; and then, we puddled the
a technology is’ but, providesless information on ‘
’ or when atechnology could be used.“Our survivor teams discoveredthat there are gaps of practicalinformation in the RKB and sowe will focus on improving this,”Ms. Nelson said. “Much of theinformation about managing a ricecrop came from colleagues, experts,published research, among othersources. Ideally, the RKB should bethe primary source of information onrice production and we are workingtowards this goal.”The RKB was launched in 2002when the Training Center decided to bring together all current validatedrice-farming knowledge from IRRI.The idea is for it to become a one-stop shop of online information forextension and farming communitiesin partner countries (see
Banking our
Rice Today
July-September 2013
Rice Today
July-September 2013
eld. After that, we did a secondarywet tillage and then a nal smoothing
 before we transplanted.”“Our team decided to do aregular puddled and transplanted
eld,” explained Sarah Beebout,
a soil chemist on Team DoubleTrouble Makers. “We decided on thistraditional cultivation because thereare a lot of weeds here in this part ofthe research farm. And, it’s very well-suited for lowland rice production.“We also tried mechanicaltransplanting rather than hand
transplanting of two dierent
varieties,” Dr. Beebout added. “In onehalf of the plot, we tried a popularcultivar, NSIC Rc 222, while in theother half, we tried traditional varietyPirurutong, which has purple grain.”Team Future Techs was theonly group that tried direct seeding.“We opted for mechanized seeding
using a 4-wheel tractor aached to a
seeder,” said Bhagirath Chauhan, aweed expert. “We think the futureof rice farming is in mechanization
 because geing labor at critical times
such as transplanting is becoming
more dicult,” he explained.
The diversity of approachesthe teams took in how to establishand manage their rice crops andthe various management methods
employed reects how farmers
themselves operate and makedecisions.
Let the games begin
The rst real physical challenge for
the teams started with transplantingthe rice plants. Everyone quicklyrealized that this is hard work!
“It’s my rst experience to pull
out the seedlings and sow themrow by row,” said Valerien Pede, aneconomist on Team Hayahay. “It wasquite challenging. When I looked back and saw how crooked the rowswere, I said to myself, ‘Wow, theylook terrible!’” related Dr. Pede. “Ichecked what the more experiencedguys were doing and then realized Iwas not doing it right. So, I adjusted.Anyway, I enjoyed the learningprocess.”After transplanting, thechallenges kept rolling in. There werea few surprises, which worked wellfor some, but not so well for others.For example, Team DoubleTrouble Makers experimented withalternate wet and dry irrigation, whichentailed keeping the plot dry for sometime. Unfortunately, a well-meaningfarm worker irrigated their plot, pluswater seeped in from the adjacentplots. So, they switched back to the
more traditional continuous ooding
The curse o the snails
Golden apple snails were one ofthe most serious concerns for allcompetitors. “You can take onestep, and maybe pick up 50 snails,and then take another step and dothe same, said Jason Beebout. “It’soverwhelming.”In the beginning, his team waslooking at a good crop stand of one totwo tillers per hill, but they had to re-plant after the snails had a chompingfrenzy on their seedlings. “One thingthat I’ve learned is that we shouldhave thought about snails before theseedlings ever went into the ground,”Mr. Beebout said.
More feld surprises
Team Future Techs didn’t have anyproblem with snails because theywent for dry direct seeding, so theydidn’t irrigate their plot. But, they hadto contend with their own problemwhen using this practice—weeds.“We didn’t get it right at the startof the season,” said James Quilty, apostdoctoral fellow in IRRI’s Cropand Environmental Sciences Division(CESD). “Our crop establishmentwas poor and as for crop protection,there wasn’t any. They direct seededtheir plot right before the start of theChristmas season. With the Instituteclosed for the holidays, by the timethe team returned to its plot in January, lots of weeds were there.“Since we did not use herbicides,we had to pull the weeds with our bare hands,” said Dr. Quilty, “and itwas very labor-intensive.”Like Team Future Techs, TeamHayahay
also had a weed problem.“One thing that came through for us
was the need for a leveled eld,” said
Noel Magor, head of IRRI’s Training
Golden apple w  f th  f  mtt.rice survivors tk bt th  ttg f th t y   f r s.
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