Aerobic rice and Areas to be grown under aerobic rice

Aerobic rice

Water in irrigated rice production has been taken for granted for centuries, but the “looming water crisis” may change the way of rice production in the future. Water saving irrigation technologies that were investigated in the early 1970s, such as saturated soil culture and alternate wetting and drying, are receiving renewed attention from researchers. These technologies reduce water input, though mostly at the expense of some yield loss. Farmers in Asia who confront scarcity or high costs of water have already started to adopt these technologies.

Aerobic rice is a new concept to further decrease water requirements in rice production. It is commercially grown in Brazil and is being pioneered by farmers in northern China. In the heart of the rice-wheat belt in India (Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh), innovative farmers have begun to grow rice aerobically under furrow irrigation in raised bed systems. Over the centuries, lowland rice has proven to be a remarkably anaerobic character. The shift from anaerobic to aerobic systems will have major consequences for weed, disease and pest management, nutrient and soil organic mater dynamics, and green house gas emission and sequestration. Weed control is an especially crucial issue in most water-saving irrigation technologies.

Concept: A fundamental approach to reduce water inputs in rice is to grow the crop like an irrigated upland crop such as wheat or maize. Instead of trying to reduce water input in lowland fields, the concept of having the field flooded or saturated is abandoned altogether. Upland crops are grown in non-puddled aerobic soil without standing water. Irrigation is applied to bring the soil water content in the root zone up to field capacity after it has reached a certain lower threshold (e.g., halfway between field capacity and wilting point). Since it is not possible to apply irrigation water to the root zone only, some of it is lost by deep percolation and is unavailable for uptake by the crop. Typical field application efficiencies vary from 60-70% using surface irrigation (e.g., flash or furrow irrigation) to more than 90% using sprinkler or drip irrigation. Evaporation can also be reduced with this technique, since there is no continuous standing water layer.

Areas to be grown under aerobic rice

The aerobic rice can be raised in the areas:

• Where rainfall is insufficient to sustain lowland rice production (estimated to require 1,200–1,500 mm) but thought to be sufficient for aerobic rice (estimated to require some 800 mm). Here, maize is the dominant crop and rice is an attractive alternative through the benefits of crop diversification.

• In pump-irrigated areas where water has becomes so expensive that lowland rice production was abandoned.

• Where water is scarce during the first part of the growing season (necessitating irrigation), but floods occur in the second part, upland crops such as maize and soybean cannot withstand flooding, but aerobic rice can.

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