Authored by Jayant Row in Food and Agriculture
Published on 05-21-2009
One fifth of the calories consumed by humans come from rice. Rice is the most important grain for human consumption, though the production of maize is the highest. Maize is mainly used for consumption by cattle. Rice belongs to the grass family. It is grown as an annual plant. It grows up to 1.8 meters in height at the maximum, and its leaves are slender, 2.5 cms broad and about a 100 cms long. Rice growing is a very labor intensive activity that also requires high rainfall. It is mainly grown in South Asia and Africa, though all parts of the world have their own rice growing areas.
The age old method of growing rice is to flood the fields after planting the seedlings. This therefore requires level fields where the damming and channeling can be easily done. This is the reason that even where rice is grown in hilly areas, the fields are terraced, so that each plot is at one level. The flooding of the rice field deters weeds and pest plants and also other vermin. Rice can also be grown at home in tubs and similar containers by following the same process as for bigger areas.
Rice seed is rice that has not had its husk removed, and is generally obtained by the farmer from his previous crop or from seed farms, quite a few of whom sell genetically modified seed which have increased yields and better resistance to pests. There are a number of varieties of rice, each of which is suitable to a certain area. Farmers opt for varieties that are naturally suited to the climate in their area and also varieties that are popular in the local area for consumption.
Once you have the rice seed, the area that is to be planted needs to be plowed. Asian countries depend on animals for this, but tractors are also available nowadays. Tractors are used for plowing in the Western world. The field needs to be at one level to assist the flooding process, and farms are generally terraced with each terrace being at one level.
The field is then delineated to create rows about 6 inches apart. This can be done by rope, with a team moving ahead of the planters, while creating these rows. Sticks are then used and small holes are created again 6 inches apart all along each row. 4 to 5 grains of rice are placed in each dibbled hole and the holes covered by stamping on them. This completes the planting process.
The field is then flooded with about two inches of water and the water level maintained till the plants start sprouting. Once the plants are about 5 to 6 inches high, the water level may be increased to about 4 inches. The rice takes about four months to mature and the plant changes from green to yellow. 30 days after the plants have flowered, the fields are divested of the flooded water and allowed to dry. Once the plants are harvested they are allowed to dry in the fields before being sent for further processing. Fertilizers may be used during the growing process, as required.
In certain parts of the world, rice seedlings are grown in separate nurseries at much closer spacing, and after the plants have grown to about 3 to 4 inches they are carefully removed from the flooded nursery and replanted in the fields ensuring that all plants are 6 inches apart. This enables the farmer to save some water, as nurseries are much smaller areas. The labor involved is however much higher.