Organic rice production in the Philippines

Organic Rice Production In The Philippines – What We Did

It’s October and we are the first in our barangay (village) of Gumot to harvest our rice. This year’s harvest is the best we have had in 5 years of planting rice.

Everyone in our area used to ‘laugh’ at our rice – usually privately thankfully – because each year our rice was a flop!

This year EVERYONE has commented on how good our rice is as they have walked by our farm. No one is laughing now! And yet it’s taken us five challenging years to get things right so we can have an almost perfect organic rice harvest.

Organic Rice Production Methods

Over the last five years we have experimented with a lot of different organic rice planting production methods – we are blessed because we have the time, energy and money to take risks. Farmers are not risk takers in general because a failed crop is SO devastating. Every farmer wants to get things right and get a great harvest. To make sure they get things right, they follow tried and tested methods that will ensure their success in the area they live.

Trial And Error Organic Rice Production Methods

An average farmer would go very hungry if they grew rice using trial and error methods, but as mentioned we are very blessed seeing we have the resources to ‘play’ and the energy to get things right. We also choose to be innovators and not followers, and with that comes a great risk of failure.

The path to success is always littered with failure but as good old Peter Drucker said :

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”― Peter F. Drucker

We did not actually use trial and error methods, we used other people’s methods that worked for them but failed for us.

Some of the organic rice production methods we’ve tried :

  • Direct seeding : good if your farm is not the home to 1.3 trillion ants!
  • SRI : good if you have lots of labour to manage the crop weeding and your soil is NOT clay!
  • Traditional rice planting using seedlings and transplanting using wider plant spacing : great if you have lots of water and your soil is not clay
  • Vermicast compost fertilised rice – traditional transplanting methods : great if you have a lot of worm food and do not need to import it to the farm
harvesting organic rice team
organic rice production Philippines
organic rice production methods Philippines

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Perfect opportunity for corporate team building or youth team building in late June

 

organic rice image

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Organic Rice Production Methods That Worked For Us

Organic rice production in the Philippines is still in its infancy. Finding what works for you at your location is the #1 key to successful organic rice production .

Other people’s ideas are a great starting point but they should be fully assessed based on your local conditions. If you are doing any form or farming but especially if you are farming organically, it’s super important to not ‘live in your head’. You simply cannot  think something will work because it works for someone else unless that person is your direct neighbour and they have the same soil type as you.

The organic rice production methods that have worked for us will work for others but its important to do a local assessment before implementing new ideas unless you want to spend 5 years like we did learning from the basics.

What Organic Rice Production Methods Worked For Us

Before letting you know what worked production wise let me cover off our organic farming production criteria so you have a deeper understanding of our organic farming goals:

  • Our production methods must use low labour. We are in an area where it’s hard to find organic farm workers – everyone is busy with their own farms and we are in a semi-remote area.
  • We cannot reply on farm importing of raw organic materials. It’s important to source our materials from our farm when we can. Importing materials carries a huge risk of pollution.
  • Production cash costs must be minimalised . We want to produce great organic crops without them being more expensive than if we purchased them from another farmer!

So what rice production methods did work.

The number one things that has made our organic farm a success is having organic fish ponds. During the first three years of our farm development we did not have fish ponds. We now have three fish ponds with another 1/2 million litres pond planned for early 2019.

Vermicasting is a great way to produce organic rice but it means you must have a means to feed the worms. We do not have a lot of materials on the farm that can be used. Cow poo is one of the best worm foods but that means you have to have cows – gathering cow poo from neighbours farms is destructive to their farm as well as creating a risk of importing toxic elements.

We are also an animal free farm – we do not breed any animals other than fish partially for ethical reasons (we only eat fish on the farm), but mainly for soil sustainability reasons. Our property is sloping so animals create massive soil erosion. Because we have no direct animal inputs using fish pond water was our best organic fertiliser choice.

Water was a huge challenge for us too. Rain fed rice can normally only be grown here in this area seeing we are at the top of a hill have have no way to irrigate our rice. Having multiple fish ponds allowed us to irrigate from the ponds rotating our water extraction so the fish would not suffer.

The key part of pond water is that it is a liquid fertiliser so it’s easy to transport and plants can use the nutrients the same day. And with us being able to flood irrigate our fields as needed our rice production skyrocketed.

We used to have a weed problem growing rain fed rice. Using our fish pond water this year we had no major issue with weeds. Labour wise all it took was moving a pipe and pressing a button!

Power consumption has been higher this year because of our pumping needs, but we aim to reduce and eventually remove this cost by using wind and solar power generated on our organic farm.

Fish pond water provided for 90% of our organic rice fertiliser needs with the other 10% coming from traditional composting.

We created large compost heaps in each field using the following materials:

  • pond weed – water lettuce and water hyacinth 
  • coco lumber saw dust from a local mill – coco lumber is from coconut trees and is basically PH 7 and breaks down faster than tree sawdust
  • fish pond sludge from the bottom of the ponds after cleaning
  • fish pond water
  • goat poo sourced from our neighbours farms bought from them per sack

The compost piles were spread across each field before the field was ploughed.

Next Years Organic Rice Production Methods

Using Azolla and Duckweed As Organic Fertilisers

using azolla for rice production
using azolla for organic rice production in Philippines
Organic rice production in the Philippines

For our 2019 organic rice production we will add a new component: Azolla and Duckweed.

This year we had production issues with our Azolla and Duckweed due to heavy rain killing our plants. For our 2019 planting we will also seed Azolla and Duckweed into the field at the same time as transplanting. As soon as the seedlings are transplanted we will seed the paddy fields with these magical organic water plants.

The water plants grow extracting nitrogen from the water (Duckweed) and nitrogen from the air (Azolla) and when the paddy dries out a little some of the plants die and compost in a few days providing instant nitrogen and nutrients to the rice.

Remember our organic rice production techniques from above – we want to save money and labour and get better results. Nature does the magic for us – we work very little!

Enjoy organic farming and try organic rice next year.

Other Organic Rice Production Tips

Using organic cover crops and a grass cutter

If you own a grass cutter then you should put it to good use when producing organic rice.

We start preparing our organic rice paddy fields in May right after the very early rains drop their magic from the sky.

Happy House Organic farm is located in a drought prone area just 1km inland high up on a hill. We often do not see any rain from mid November through to mid May the following year! So yes for half of the year we have zero rain – not a drop! We are located in a micro-climate sandwiched between two sets of hills that act as a heat funnel pushing the rain north away from us.

During the summer months we try and maintain a cover crop on our fields, but it usually does not survive the long summer heat which now reaches over 42 degrees C.

We’re still experimenting with cover crops – we will be trying a local weed that is highly drought resistant this coming summer. The weeds local name is Biday or Sulasi. The English name is Holy Basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum). This weed herb grows just a few centimetres high during the scorching summer but can survive on the morning dew. We have seen this super-hardy herb grow wild in our neighbours fields all summer long.

 

Holy Basil cover crop
ocimum-tenuiflorum-holy-basil-closeup

In May after the first early rains the weeds and grass burst alive and start to take over our fields. We just love those weeds because when we cut them down with the grass cutter it creates a lush nitrogen rich mulch on the fields that starts to bring the soil bacteria alive again and wakes up the worms that have bored deep into the ground to survive the heat.

We usually get to cut the ‘grass’ three times before we finally start ploughing the fields ready for organic rice planting. Those early weeds are a great blessing to us. Our neighbours put their goats and carabaos in their fields so by time they come to plant their rice the fields are super dry, hard and have zero organic matter in the soil.

After we have harvested the rice we use our magic grass cutter again to cut the rice stubble and all the hay. We feed the soil not animals! Having animals on a small organic farm like ours is super-detrimental to soil health. They create a short-term gain and a long-term loss.

Final Organic Rice Long-Term Sustainability Production Tips

We have a simple rule on our organic farm:

  • What comes out of the field goes back into the field

What this means to us is that if we harvest rice for example then the rice straw from THAT field goes back in THAT field. We do not collect materials and move them to a central compost area or worst still feed them to animals.

We keep any waste materials in the field it was harvested from. If it needs composting we create a few big pile at the edge of the field or usually we just shred things with the grass cutter so they break down very fast and create food for the worms and other insects that build our organic soil health.

Treat each organic field like a bank account for sustainable organic agriculture

We think of the fertility in each field like a bank account. Because of this we are always trying to add to each fields fertility and are very careful about removing fertility by burning materials or grazing animals.

In the five years that we have been treating our fields like bank accounts the harvest returns have gone up and up. Just this year we doubled the yield of our rice harvest compared to last year (and we had a typhoon damage our crops).

Sustainable organic agriculture should be the key focus for any organic farmer.

Your soil is your gold!