Category Archives: wheat

8 Informative and Interesting Recent USDA Charts

For this post, I’ve gathered together some recent and especially noteworthy USDA charts with their accompanying descriptions. The subjects vary widely, so there should be something of interest for everyone.

1. Conservation Program Funding in the New Farm Bill

While the new CRP acreage cap cuts maximum enrollment by 25 percent, the impact on program enrollment and related environmental benefits may be relatively modest. CRP acreage has been declining since 2007, falling from 36.8 million acres to 25.6 million—30 percent—by December 2013. Environmental benefits, however, may not be diminishing as quickly as the drop in enrolled acreage might suggest. CRP has shifted rapidly from enrolling whole fields or farms (through general signup) to funding high-priority, partial-field practices, including riparian buffers, field-edge filter strips, grassed waterways, and wetland restoration (through continuous signup). On a per-acre basis, these practices are believed to provide greater environmental benefits than whole-field enrollments while taking less land out of crop production. Because partial-field practices are more expensive, however, CRP annual payments have fallen by only 10 percent since 2007. At the end of 2013, the average annual payment for partial-field practices was $103 per acre, versus only $50 per acre for whole fields.


2. Global Demand and Rising Costs to Affect Prices of Corn, Wheat and Soybeans

Although market responses to high crop prices in recent years, both in the United States and in other countries, are projected to lower U.S. crop prices over the next couple of years, in the longer term prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans are projected to remain high relative to historical prices. The continuing influence of several long-term factors—including global growth in population and per capita income, a low-valued U.S. dollar, increasing costs for crude petroleum, and rising biofuel production—underlies these price projections. Corn prices are projected to decline through 2015/16, but then begin increasing in 2016/17 as ending stocks tighten due to growth in feed use, exports, and demand for corn by ethanol producers. Soybean prices are expected to initially fall from recent highs but then rise moderately after 2015/16, reflecting strengthening demand for soybeans and soybean products. Wheat prices are projected to fall through 2016/17, in response to rising wheat stocks and falling corn prices, but strengthen in the longer term due to export growth, moderate gains in food use, and declining stocks.


3. Agriculture’s role in climate change: greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration

The greenhouse gas (GHG) profile of the agricultural and forestry sector differs substantially from the profile of other sectors. Agriculture is an emission-intensive sector; it accounted for less than 1 percent of U.S. production (in real gross value-added terms), but emitted 10.4 percent of U.S. GHGs in 2012. Energy-related CO2 emission sources—which dominate GHG emissions in most other production sectors—are dwarfed in agriculture by unique crop and livestock emissions of nitrous oxide and methane. Crop and pasture soil management are the activities that generate the most emissions, due largely to the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and other nutrients. The next largest sources are enteric fermentation (digestion in ruminant livestock) and manure management. Agriculture and forestry are unique in providing opportunities for withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere through biological sequestration in soil and biomass carbon sinks. The carbon sinks, which are largely due to land use change from agricultural to forest land (afforestation) and forest management on continuing forest, offset 13.5 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2012. ERS is currently involved in research on the economic incentives farm operators have, or could be provided with, to take steps to both mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change.


4. U.S. Wheat Export Market Share Projected to Continue to Fall

Although global and U.S. wheat exports are projected to rise over the next decade, the U.S. share of the world market is projected to continue to decline because of competition from other exporters. Global demand for wheat is expected to expand, driven primarily by income and population growth in developing country markets, including Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brazil. The number of major exporting countries has, however, expanded in recent years from the traditional wheat exporters–the United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, and the European Union–to include Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Although variable, the wheat export volume of those three Black Sea exporters together now rivals that of the United States. Low production costs and new investment in the agricultural sectors of the Black Sea region have enabled their world market share to climb, despite the region’s highly variable weather. Competition from the Black Sea region, as well as from traditional exporters, has resulted in a decline in the U.S. share of expanding world exports from an average of about 39 percent in the first half of the 1980s to an average of about 20 percent over the last 5 years.


5. Food loss in U.S. grocery stores, restaurants, and homes valued at $162 billion in 2010

In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion, using 2010 retail prices. Food loss by retailers, foodservice establishments, and consumers occurs for a variety of reasons—a refrigerator malfunctions and food spoils, a store or restaurant overstocks holiday foods that do not get purchased, or consumers cook more than they need and choose to throw the extra food away. Food loss also includes cooking loss and natural shrinkage, such as when leafy greens wilt. In 2010, the top three food groups in terms of share of total value of food loss were meat, poultry, and fish ($48 billion); vegetables ($30 billion); and dairy products ($27 billion). Meat, poultry, and fish’s 30-percent share in value terms is higher than its 12-percent share when measured on a weight basis due to these foods’ higher per pound cost relative to many other foods.


6. Dynamic growth projected for world poultry trade

Poultry meat imports by major importers are projected to increase by 2.5 million tons (34 percent) between 2013 and 2023, led by rising import demand in North Africa and the Middle East (NAME), Mexico, and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Similar factors are expected to drive import growth in each region. Rising incomes and the low cost of poultry meat relative to other meats are projected to favor growth in poultry meat consumption among the low- and middle-income consumers in each region. At the same time, limited local supplies of feed grains and feed protein in all three regions are expected to continue to limit the expansion of indigenous poultry meat production. The NAME region currently accounts for 47 percent of imports by the major poultry importers, and is projected to account for nearly 80 percent of the increase in their poultry meat imports between 2014 and 2023. In contrast, little import growth is projected for Russia, where policies continue to deter imports in favor of domestic producers, and for China, where domestic production is projected to keep pace with demand.


7. World population growth is projected to continue slowing over the next decade, rising about 1.0 percent per year for the projection period compared to an annual rate of 1.2 percent in 2001-10.

• Developed countries have very low projected rates of population growth, at 0.4 percent over 2013-23. The projected annual average population growth rate for the United States of about 0.8 percent is the highest among developed countries, in part reflecting immigration.

• Population growth rates in developing economies are projected to be sharply lower than rates in 1990-2010, but remain above those in the rest of the world. As a result, the share of global population accounted for by developing countries increases to 82 percent by 2023, compared to 79 percent in 2000.

• China and India together accounted for 36 percent of the world’s population in 2013. China’s population growth rate slows from 1.0 percent per year in 1991-2000 to less than 0.4 percent in 2013-23, with its share of global population falling. The population growth rate in India is projected to decline from 1.8 percent to 1.2 percent per year over the same period, increasing its share of world population.

• Brazil’s population growth rate falls from 1.6 percent per year in 1991-2000 to 1.0 percent annually in 2013-23. The population growth rate in Indonesia is projected to decline from 1.7 percent to 0.9 percent per year over the same period. Although Sub-Saharan Africa’s population growth rate declines from 2.6 percent to 2.4 percent per year between the same periods, this region continues to have the highest population growth rate of any region in the world and its population decline is modest relative to other regions of the world.

• Countries with declining populations include Greece, Germany, most central European countries, Russia, Ukraine, and Japan.


8. Global trade: Wheat, coarse grains, and soybeans and soybean products

Global trade in soybeans and soybean products has risen rapidly since the early 1990s, and has surpassed global trade in wheat and total coarse grains (corn, barley, sorghum, rye, oats, millet, and mixed grains). Continued strong growth in global demand for vegetable oil and protein meal, particularly in China and other Asian countries, is expected to maintain soybean and soybean- products trade well above either wheat or coarse grain trade throughout the next decade.

• Globally, the total area planted to grains, oilseeds, and cotton is projected to expand an average of 0.5 percent per year. Area expands more rapidly in countries with a reserve of available land and policies that allow farmers to respond to prices. Such countries include Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, some other countries in South America, and some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, in many countries area expansion is less than half that rate, and cropped area even contracts in some countries. Over half of the projected growth in global production of grains, oilseeds, and cotton is derived from rising yields, even though growth in crop yields is projected to continue slowing.

• The market impact of slower yield growth is partially offset by slower growth in world population. Nonetheless, population growth is a significant factor driving overall growth in demand for agricultural products. Additionally, rising per capita income in most countries supplements population gains in the demand for vegetable oils, meats, horticulture, dairy products, and grains. World per capita use of vegetable oils is projected to rise 6.5 percent over the next 10 years, compared with 15 percent for meats and 7 percent for total coarse grains. In contrast, per capita wheat use does not rise, and per capita rice consumption drops 1 percent.

• Increasing demand for grains, oilseeds, and other crops provide incentives to expand the global area under cultivation and the intensity of cropping the land. The largest projected increases in the area planted to field crops are in the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Sub- Saharan Africa. Large expansions are also projected for Brazil, Indonesia, and Argentina, including some uncultivated land brought into soybean and palm oil production in response to increased world demand for vegetable oils.

How are our Agricultural Exports Doing?

I have been a fan of the fine job that Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer do in analysis and writing over at the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, in Knoxville. This fall they have been writing about the changing role that U.S. agricultural exports are playing in the increasingly competitive global market. Below, I’ve republished their entire writing about corn, followed by links to their articles about the export situations for soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.

Corn exports: A case of unrealized expectations and farm policies that did not deliver

Corn is, without a doubt, the most important crop grown by US farmers and yet for the 2012 crop year US corn exports are projected to be a paltry 715 million bushels, the lowest level since 1970. In addition, for the first time since 1970, wheat exports exceeded corn exports.

The short explanation for this situation lays blame on a severe drought in the major corn production areas in the US. The longer explanation is a bit more complicated than that. The drought is just part of a larger story that has played out over the last half-century.

In 1960, US corn production was just under 4 billion bushels, nearly the same as non-US corn production (all years are harmonized to a standard crop year that that begins in what closely corresponds to the US fall harvest in the named year and ends at the beginning of the next crop year). By 2010, US corn production had tripled to 12.5 billion bushels before falling to 10.8 billion bushels in 2012. During that same period, non-US corn production increased to 20.3 billion bushels.

While both US and non-US yields nearly tripled between 1960 and 2010, US harvested acres increased by 14 percent. At the same time, non-US corn harvested acres increased by 79 percent, accounting for the lion’s share of the gain in production, relative to the US.

World corn exports as a percent of domestic consumption was 7.2 percent in 1960. By 1975 world exports had jumped to over 16 percent of domestic consumption and remained above that level until 1982 when it fell to 14 percent. In the years since 1982, corn exports relative to domestic consumption have remained below 16 percent, falling to 10.7 percent in 2012.

At 275 million bushels in 1960, US exports were an almost half of world corn exports. In 1972 US corn exports jumped to 77.9 percent of world corn exports and remained above 70 percent for sixteen of the next twenty-three years. In five of those years, the US share of world corn exports exceeded 80 percent, including 1995. With the drought in 2012, it was the non-US exports that stood at 80 percent, a level unseen in the preceding 52 years.

The 1970s was a time of unprecedented growth in US corn exports. Growth continued into in the early 1980s, but fell sharply in the mid-1980s. While the US share of world corn exports was relatively high off-and-on over part of the period after the mid-1980s, there has been no upward trend in US corn exports during the last 28 years.

Non-US corn exports on the other hand have expanded greatly, reaching 1 billion bushels in 1999 and hitting 3 billion bushels in both 2011 and 2012. In 2012, for the first time, the US was not the world’s largest exporter of corn, falling to third behind Brazil and Argentina. As recently as 1998, Brazil exported just 315 thousand bushels, compared to 965 million bushels in 2012.

Clearly, corn production and exports are subject to long-term trends. For production, the trend has been decidedly upward in the US and elsewhere in the world. Increases in technology and the rate of adoption of new technologies have the potential to keep this trend going.

So what does all this tell us?

Beginning with the 1985 Farm Bill, the US has pursued policies thought to be consistent with getting grain exports—corn exports specifically—back on an upward trend similar to the 1970s. Those efforts have been doomed to failure in large measure by the steady increase in corn acreage in the rest of the world. Furthermore, additional future increases in worldwide corn acreages will be coming from places like Brazil, not the US. Also, the rate of increase in non-US corn yields may well accelerate in the future.

The US will continue to be an important player in the corn export market. But declarations and farm policies predicated on the expectation that corn exports will be the primary driver for a prosperous US agriculture are no more likely to deliver in the future than they have over the last nearly three decades.

__________________________________________________________

Soybeans: US export trend is up, share of world exports is down

In contrast to corn where US exports have generally been flat since hitting a peak between 1979 and 1981, US soybean exports have generally trended upward over time. The US exported 5.8 MMT (million metric tons) of soybeans in 1964, passed the 10 MMT threshold in 1969, the 20 MMT threshold in 1978 falling below that level in 7 of the next 27 years before passing the 30 MMT level in 2006 and the 40 MMT level three years later in 2009. With a drought reduced crop, 2012 US soybean exports were 35.8 MMT….

US wheat exports down by nearly half from 1981 peak while non-US wheat exports have doubled

US wheat production stood at 1.4 billion bushels in 1960, dropping to 1.1 billion bushels before taking off as the export boom of the 1970s began to surge. By 1981 and 1982, US wheat production had reached 2.8 billion bushels, double its level just 20 years earlier. And farmers and politicians alike thought that ever-expanding exports had solved the “farm problem.” Since then US wheat production has leveled off remaining in the 2.0 to 2.5 billion-bushel range as producers sought more profitable alternatives….

Most US cotton production traditionally went to domestic mills, now it goes abroad

During the last half century, cotton production has had its share of ups and downs; though this year’s cotton production is expected to be near what it was fifty-plus years ago. Cotton demand has also been variable, but what is most striking is the shift in where the cotton is utilized, that is, processed. Traditionally domestic demand in the form of purchases by US cotton mills dominated US cotton demand, but in recent years export demand has become as dominate as domestic demand used to be….

US is the 4th largest rice exporter; each of the 3 largest rice exporters export more than US produces

US production and consumption of rice have increased markedly over the last half-century, but compared to Asian countries, the US plays a bit-role in world rice production. Most of the rice consumed in the US is domestically grown, though less now than years ago….

3 Picks: Gluten-Free Wheat, Plant Microbiology, Economic Optimism

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Washington State University Researcher ‘very close’ on celiac-safe wheat, herbicide-tolerant barley: By Matthew Weaver. “Von Wettstein is working to develop nutritionally improved, celiac-safe wheat cultivars and breeding barley cultivars for the Pacific Northwest that would be resistant to the herbicide imidazolinone, commonly used by farmers. Von Wettstein said he has wheat lines where he’s obtained a 76.4 percent reduction in the accumulation of the key gluten proteins. The next step is silencing the remaining percentage.” [Sorry about the dead link, but Cap.Press website is under construction today. It should be available later.] UPDATE: Article still not available. I also found this, “Taking the Glower out of gluten.”

2) Report Proposes Microbiology’s Grand Challenge to Help Feed the World: “A greater focus on the role of microbiology in agriculture combined with new technologies can help mitigate potential food shortages associated with world population increases according to a new report from the American Academy of Microbiology. “Microbes are essential partners in all aspects of plant physiology, but human efforts to improve plant productivity have focused solely on the plant,” says Ian Sanders of University of Lausanne, chair of the colloquium that produced the report. ‘Optimizing the microbial communities that live in, on and around plants, can substantially reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.’” Improved understanding of plant-microbe interactions has the potential to increase crop productivity by 20% while reducing fertilizer and pesticide requirements by 20%, within 20 years, because all plants rely on microbial partners to secure nutrients, deter pathogens and resist environmental stress.

3) Calculated Risk is Bullish on the Economy: by Bill McBride. Some of you may know that McBride has almost never been wrong in his outlooks, so everyone pays attention when he provides one. He is more optimistic about the economy right now, than previously, he says. “It still appears economic growth will pickup over the next few years. With a combination of growth in the key housing sector, a significant amount of household deleveraging behind us, the end of the drag from state and local government layoffs (four years of austerity mostly over), some loosening of household credit, and the Fed staying accommodative (even if the Fed starts to taper, the Fed will remain accommodative).”

BONUS: This link provides state and regional farms that allow pick-your-own produce. Since it is harvest time, this is a great way to support these farms and find a healthy source of local food, too.

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

3 Picks: Southwest Drought, Food Inflation, Gliadin Protein


Eastern Colorado wheat scene. July 2013.

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Dust Bowl Blues: Sasha Abramsky writes about drought conditions in the Southwestern U.S. “The soil quality is now so poor that on the few occasions when it does rain, the next day’s wind simply blows the newly moistened topsoil away. Across the area you can see rows of cotton, black and dead in the orange earth—entire fields burned by the static electricity generated by the sandstorms … After decades of overuse—tapping into aquifers and removing more water than nature could add back in, even during the abnormally wet 1980s and ’90s—the water-credit system in this part of the country seems to be running out.”

2) Latest in annual food price inflation from the BLS: The food index saw a 1.4% increase over the year ending June, with prices for food at home up 0.9% and prices for food away from home up 2.2%. Prices for food at work and schools again showed the greatest annual increase at 5.3%, while full service meals were up 2.3% and fast food prices were only up 1.8%. Major year over year changes in prices of food at home included an 8.4% increase in bacon prices, a 10.2% increase in whole chicken, a 6.9% increase in egg prices, a 6.8% increase in prices for donuts and sweet rolls, and a 6.7% increase in apple prices. Prices for coffee fell 5.4%, prices for dried beans and peas fell 5.4%, prices for potatoes fell 3.7%, and sugar prices fell 6.0%. (Food prices account for just over 14% of the consumer price index, or CPI.)

3) Wheat and Grains are Healthy: Lola Raska, VP of the Montana Grain Growers Association, lashes back against all of the negative publicity surrounding wheat these days, especially Dr. William Davis and his book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health “gliadins are not new. These seed storage proteins have always been a component of wheat protein and were even present in ancient wheats like emmer and einkorn and the wild species that gave rise to modern wheat.”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

An Interview with Cornell’s Dr. Erika Styger about the System of Crop Intensification (SRI-Rice)


Mechanical weeding in a rice field using SRI in Punjab, India. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

K.M.: The following is a rare, up-to-date, and exceptional interview of the very busy Dr. Erika Styger, Director of the SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice) of Cornell University, about the System of Rice (or Crop) Intensification.

Q: Let’s start out by explaining what SRI is, because many people still have never heard of it, even though the techniques have been known for many years.

The System of Rice Intensification, known as SRI is an agro-ecological methodology for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. SRI originated in Madagascar in the 1980s and is based on the cropping principles of significantly reducing plant population, improving soil conditions and irrigation methods for root and plant development, and improving plant establishment methods.

The benefits of SRI have been demonstrated in over 50 countries and include: 20%-100% or more increased yields, up to a 90% reduction in required seed, and up to 50% water savings. SRI principles and practices have been adapted for rainfed rice as well as for other crops (such as wheat, sugarcane and teff, among others), with yield increases and associated economic benefits.

SRI, or the System of Rice Intensification has made a big difference in the lives of 4-5 million smallholder farmers world wide. It is a system which offers a good way to develop more productive agriculture while using ecological methods. SRI is an “open-source” method with no ownership and no patents.

There is no money to be made by large industry and companies, just the farmers. Farmers can tell you how well it has worked for them; they are the experts with this system. With a bottom-up solution like this, it is evident that it takes more time to be known. There is also still little funding going towards spreading the knowledge about SRI, supporting farmers and collecting and learning from the success stories from the field. It’s the best innovation you never heard about.

Q: The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which is also called the System of Crop Intensification (SCI), or the System of Root Intensification (SRI), has had great success among small shareholder farmers in many countries around the world. Please describe the various directions being taken with the knowledge of SRI.

SRI was developed through a multi-year observation process and through tests by Father de Laulanie, a French Jesuit missionary in Madagascar in the early 1980s. He synthesized the combination of practices that he called, in French, “le Système de Riziculture Intensive” or SRI. Since the late 1990s, SRI has been validated outside of Madagascar and spread quickly to many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. An essential result was that the applied SRI methodology resulted in improved yields with less inputs in all of the different climates where rice is grown. Since 2005, SRI farmers and technicians, intrigued by the concept of SRI, started to apply the SRI principles to other crops, and thus the System of Crop Intensification (or SCI) emerged through innovation processes directly from the field.

SCI has created very good results with other cereal crops such as finger millet, wheat, the Ethiopian teff, but also with sugar cane, legumes, and vegetable crops. We use ‘SCI’ as a generic term for all other crops besides rice. For a specific crop the term is adapted, for example for wheat, System of Wheat Intensification or SWI is used. The term System of Root Intensification was coined in India, indicating the importance of the root system growth in developing a healthy and productive agriculture. As SRI is a non-proprietary, open-source methodology, new terms are created especially in local languages that often reflect how people relate to the SRI method.

This is fine and we don’t like to comment or insist how people should use the terminology. At SRI-Rice, we decided to keep with the traditional term SRI (System of Rice Intensification) and apply SCI (System of Crop Intensification) as a collective term for all other crops. We also use the acronyms for specific crops, such as SWI for wheat.


Afghanistan rice field – marking planting grid. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

Q: While use of the system increases production for farmers, it is still labor intensive. Please comment on the tools, small machinery advancements, and labor involved in using the System of Rice Intensification.

SRI was developed in smallholder farming conditions, which are based until today on manual labor. The optimal use of the recommended SRI practices involves changes in labor allocation and labor use for the different crop management steps, starting from soil preparation, to nursery establishment and management, transplanting, weeding, and fertilization, as well as water management. Being efficient in labor use is always of concern.

If SRI is more labor demanding or not depends on the type of rice cropping system we start out with. There is of course a learning curve for changing the cultivation practices, which takes time and can make SRI in the beginning more time consuming. Once farmers get used to the SRI system, labor requirements are often reduced, and even cited as one of the reasons why farmers adopt SRI – for instance in India. In areas with very small plot sizes and where rural labor is available, farmers have little problems to switch to SRI. Where labor is expensive and rural workers find better paying jobs outside of agriculture, the development and use of tools and machines becomes an important factor. Also, in areas with a lot of land, e.g. some places in Africa, farmers are restricted to the available family labor in how much land they cultivate.

With simple tools or machines, farmers would be able to plant larger areas. In areas that are already highly mechanized, such as Latin America, it is a question of developing the right machines, or SRI will not have a chance to be adopted. Another case is Northern Haiti, where rice farming is in the hands of old men. Labor is available but it is not economical to pay for it as the margins of rice production are very small. With higher benefits from the SRI system, rice production can suddenly interest the younger generation to reconsider agriculture. Thus each region and country has its specificity. Labor is part of the equation but more important is the economic return and what needs to happen (including mechanization and other innovations) so that the agricultural systems can benefit from the SRI principles “to produce more with less”.

There are a number of tools and equipment that can facilitate the tasks, such as transplanting or direct seeding, and importantly weeding with manually pushed or motorized weeders. Developing and making appropriate equipment accessible for different farm-sizes, mechanization levels, and climate and soil conditions remains a challenge in many countries. That is why SRI-Rice wants to support an SRI equipment innovators exchange network, which allows innovators to exchange on designing, testing and using new equipment. The goal is to recommend equipment that is appropriate for specific farming situations, and providing information where the equipment can be accessed or acquired.


In Afghanistan field. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

Q: Please tell us about studies using this system on wheat. Does it hold promise for wheat production?

SRI principles were applied to wheat first in India in 2005, but then also in Ethiopia and Mali since 2008, and more recently in Nepal. The idea to apply SRI principles to wheat came from SRI-rice farmers and technicians. In these countries, wheat is usually broadcast. Farmers changed the practices by direct seeding one or two seeds per hill planted in line, with about 15-20 centimeter spacing between the hills. Applying organic matter to soil and using a simple hand pushed weeder were the other practices adapted from SRI. The results were and are remarkable, with most often doubling of yields. Where traditionally, farmers would harvest 1.5-2.5 tons per hectare of wheat, with SWI farmers can reach 4-5 tons per hectare.

As wheat is often irrigated in the dry season, it is also possible to reduce the number of irrigations to the crop, as the organic matter improved soils retain the water longer. I have been personally associated with the introduction of SWI to Mali in the Timbuktu region, where I worked for 3 years between 2007-2010. The most impressive difference between SWI and traditionally grown wheat was the elongation of the panicles under SWI, which was almost doubled in size, and by producing fuller and larger grains.

In Northern India, Mali, Ethiopia, and Nepal wheat is a staple crop, mostly planted on small plots. Farmers bake their own chapatti or bread. With doubling yields with SWI, women farmers in Bihar were able to produce a 7-8 month of flour supply for their family, compared to 3-4 months previously. It also seems that SWI is easier to manage than SRI, so for instance in Northern India, the adoption rate is very high.


SWI-grown wheat at harvesting. Lalbojhi, Kailali, Nepal. 2011. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

Q: If there are trials going on here in the U.S., can you briefly describe them to us?

SRI trials in the US have only recently started. They are not undertaken by the commercial large-scale rice growers, but by small organic farmers who are looking for ecological and productive innovations. We are aware of a number of tests in South Carolina in this 2013 growing season. We also know of a few organic vegetable farmers in New Jersey and New York who are growing rice for the first time in their environment this year.

Interest in the SRI methodology lies in being able to grow rice in non-flooded and aerobic soil conditions, which is also expected to reduce arsenic uptake for rice. Of course good productivity and producing a healthy crop are other incentives for these farmers to work with the SRI method. It will be interesting to evaluate this year’s trials.

Q: As your research has shown, where do you think the most promising areas are in using this system of crop growing including futuristic applications? Should home gardeners be adding it to their methods?

The SRI system and methodology can be applied to any crop and any system. The combination and application of the principles strives to optimize the resources available to the plant, to minimize stress for the plants, and to give each individual plant its room and environment where it can thrive best in. We are used to such an approach for high value crops but not for grain crops and other field crops. We also are aware today, with climate change and water scarcity in many locations, that the conventional paradigm of intensification that is based on ‘putting more to produce more’ is just not working
for us anymore.

SRI systems teaches us that we can “produce more by using less”. We should learn anew how to work WITH the plants and the environment for allowing them to express their best inherent potential! This has allowed farmers to return to heirloom and old varieties, as they become more productive under SRI and thus can become economically interesting again. SRI is about observation and paying attention to your crop, and it is one of many agro-ecological approaches, concentrating on crop production.

Others, to name a few, are: the integration of livestock with agriculture, conservation agriculture, and agroforestry. SRI is a knowledge-based approach, and once farmers have learned about the new principles, they can become more independent in improving their agriculture. It is fascinating to see the transformation of farmers, for instance in Mali, who have started working with SRI, becoming so much more confident and entrepreneurial in developing their own innovations. We need new approaches and we will not find them in single-bullets, but by working with the agro-ecological system and by putting plants and animals in their best environment.

Q: How much time is involved in training farmers to use this system? Are there any efficient training programs going on which may become a standard?

Ideally farmers are trained practically. This can be done in 3-4 days, where demonstration plots are put in place by the trainees and important practices exercised and discussed directly in the field. Ideally, training of trainer approach is pursued, where the trained farmer teaches other farmers in his or her community, therefore multiplying the outreach. It is advantageous, if the farming community or village community gets organized around how to spread the knowledge best among their fellow farmers.

To obtain the best impact is when a technician can follow up periodically with farmers for 1-2 cropping seasons, in order to adapt the SRI practices to the local farming conditions. Thus, training on SRI practices is knowledge intensive at first to have the best impact. Nevertheless, there are a lot of self-starters out there – who read about SRI and get it implemented. We have a large collection of technical guidelines and manuals on our website for many countries and many languages.

At SRI-Rice we are in the development of an approach for training and data collection that can be widely shared and accessed by anybody who is interested.

Q: Tell us about the research program on SRI-Rice at Cornell. What are your goals? How large is your staff?

The SRI International Network and Resources Center (or SRI-Rice) was established three years ago with support from Jim Carrey’s Better U Foundation (BUF), in response to the increasing importance of SRI practices – an environment-friendly, yield-increasing methodology — around the world. To date, significant productivity improvements have been achieved in over 50 countries.

Our mission is to advance and share knowledge about the System of Rice Intensification and to support networking among interested organizations and individuals around the globe. We would like to see any farmer worldwide being able to access information and obtain knowledge about the SRI system, allowing them to apply the gained knowledge to improve their cropping systems. We focus on improving food security and reducing poverty, therefore concentrate to work with smallholder farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

We built and maintain the largest website on the System of Rice Intensification, which is updated daily. We report on the progress of 50 different countries, we maintain the most complete research database on SRI, we link to extension manuals in many languages, and we publish reports for partners who don’t have a web presence. We also have a large photo and video library.

Additionally, we contribute to analysis, identify trends and write about innovations that emerge from the field. We also support the networking at the global level by linking people and institutions with each other on a daily basis. Beyond that, we are currently developing larger initiatives that respond to identified priorities. These include developing a training and data monitoring approach that can easily be shared with and accessed by interested parties; and, developing and supporting regional initiatives in Latin America, West Africa and Asia.

We like to create regional communities of practice where people can exchange with each other, train and learn from each other, and work on location specific innovations with each other. We are currently in the launching process of the West Africa SRI Initiative, where SRI-Rice will provide technical support to 13 countries. For Latin America, we are currently building up communication in the Spanish language and identifying a community of interested partners. For Asia, it is a matter of linking the already strong national networks with each other for an improved multi-country exchange.

Two other priorities are the development of an international research network and the development of an international mechanization exchange network. We are currently two staff members with part-time support by a senior advisor. We work with students and leverage a lot of work through partners around the world. Our collaborations rely on demand-driven relationships with dedicated people. People, as well as students find us and we identify ways to collaborate, so that they can pursue their projects, research, or other activities.

Nevertheless, we are not enough staff given the high demand and considering what needs to be done. Also, we are not strictly a research program, but rather an outreach and extension program with research components, as indicated in our mission and activities.

Q: Anything you would like to add?

If anybody likes to start or has started working with the SRI methodology for rice or other crops anywhere in the world, or if anybody is interested in supporting SRI-Rice or other SRI activities, we would be happy to hear from you and be connected.

Contact me at eds8@ cornell.edu.

Thanks for the opportunity to share our work.

Kay McDonald: Thankyou very, very much for your time, Dr. Styger.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Erika Styger is the Director of Programs for SRI-Rice at Cornell. She has a PhD in Crop and Soil Sciences from Cornell University and has over 20 years experience in designing, executing and evaluating research and development programs in Africa. She introduced SRI into four regions of Mali, adapting SRI principals to rainfed and lowland rice and wheat.

This video shows Dr. Styger speaking about SRI-Rice and also about how heirloom and indigenous varieties become more productive when planted with SRI methods.

Here is the home page at Cornell where you may learn more about SRI.

Also, there are many SRI-rice method informational videos available here.

Additional reading: “India’s Rice Revolution”.