January 18, 2012 00:00 By Achara Pongvutitham
In the aftermath of last year's massive floods, the Crop Integration Business Group at Charoen Pokphand Group is encouraging farmers to return to more traditional rice growing, focusing only on the main and second crops, in order to avoid losses from futu
The unit has also warned farmers to reduce out-of-season rice growing, which would allow them to develop soil quality for the next plantation.
In addition, it believes farmers should focus more on alternative crops, particularly short-life crops such as bean, while waiting for new rice plantation. This traditional method would also reduce the life cycle of insects in rice fields, as pest infestation is one of the main causes of lower rice production.
At present, Thai rice farmers undertake crop-by-crop rice cultivation to ensure maximum production and allow them to reap benefits from the government’s rice subsidy scheme. Five crops are generally grown over each two-year period.
Montri Congtrakultien, president of the Crop Integration Business Group, said the unit had learned the need for two major changes as regards rice and palm-oil cultivation as a result of recent events.
In particular, last year’s devastating flooding emphasised the need for farmers to avoid growing rice during the high flood-risk period of October and November. Normally, farmers grow rice over 110-120 days, with the main crop in November through to early December.
“We have to think more about providing the right-quality seed for the right area, so we have to change the rice breed to resist flood water. In addition, we should consider adjusting the rice-growing period to avoid losses from flooding,” he said.
Montri suggests farmers should start growing the main rice crop in May or June and harvesting in September, with the second crop being planted in January. They should fertilise their fields during October and November by planting more bean, which has a growing time of only 75 days.
The government should also concentrate more on irrigation system development to ensure water supply during the plantation period, he said.
To ensure high production, specific rice seeds should be developed for certain regions. The Crop Integration Business Group is setting up rice-seed research and development centres to ensure the right-quality seeds are available for each area.
For instance, he said, a new rice-seed production facility had been established at Wieng Pa Pao in Chiang Rai province, where a controlled climate and demonstration area support production. The group now has seed-production centres in the upper North, lower North and the Central region.
“We also have to look for places that can generate high-quality seeds that can serve the specific demand of each region,” said Montri.
Moreover, the group has found that oil palm cultivated in the Rangsit area of outer Bangkok is growing well despite the recent high flood water. This has led it to conduct further study to make sure that the palm can grow well in the Central region, besides the traditional cultivation in the South.
If successful, it would allow Thailand to increase palm-oil production in the Central region, with farmers enjoying higher benefits than they gain from rice cultivation.
Montri added that the oil palm is resistant to flood water for one to two months, as long as the crown is not inundated.
Farmers in the Central region would have an advantage over southern growers of oil palm and producers of palm oil, due to lower transportation costs. It would also encourage biodiesel production in the region, as supply sources would be located close to manufacturing plants.
Rice, rubber and palm oil are the group’s three main focuses in terms of income generation, he said.
Its new rice seed has been developed to yield between 900 and 1,200 kilograms per rai, while a hybrid seed has yielded between 1,600 and1,800 kilos. The group’s seed production is set to reach 4,500 tonnes this year.
The group’s rubber breed JVP80 is still in high demand thanks to the high level of liquid rubber yielded, its strong trunk and the tree’s average life of 35 years, compared with 25 years for general breeds.
The group is conducting work on breeding a genetically modified seed for rubber trees in order attain a special-quality variety. However, it will take at least five years before bio-safety testing can be completed, he said.
In addition, the unit’s rubber-cutting machine will be launched this year, enabling growers to produce high-quality liquid rubber and obtain higher prices for their output.
Meanwhile, Montri does not expect the current drop in the price of rubber will last long, as the economies in the US and the European Union will likely soon be back on the recovery trail.
Moreover, China’s huge stock of 300,000 tonnes is falling, and overall demand is still high. In particular, demand from emerging markets such as India, Brazil and Russia is growing in line with their economies.
It is expected that the group’s rubber-seedling production will increase from 600,000 trees last year to 1.35 million this year.
It also plans to double oil-palm production to 600,000 trees this year. Its new breed CP1 will have low production of just 1,000-1,200 trees this year, he added.
Montri said durian would be another fruit grown by the group for commercial purposes, both in Trat and Pak Chong district in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Mango, pomelo and mangosteen are currently the three key fruits cultivated by the unit for the domestic market and export.
The group’s targeted sales this year of Bt2.5 billion will mainly be accounted for by agricultural machinery, rice seeds, rubber, oil palm and fruit, he said. He added that it plans to double sales within the next five years after successfully launching new breeds of rice seed, processing rubber and introducing its rubber-cutting machine.