Dr. Rice Panicle answers questions about rice and soil fertility

    | August 10, 2009

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    Every farmer is interested in soil fertility. How can sandy soil be improved? How can chemical fertilizers be used most effectively? These questions and more are discussed in this week’s script. It features a fictional radio call-in show with a rice expert, Dr. Rice Panicle.

    This script is included in Farm Radio International’s latest script package, along with two other scripts on the topic of rice. It will be of special interest to rice farmers, but all farmers in your listening audience can gather some tips on soil fertility. You could also use this script as a template for a script that addresses soil fertility questions pertaining to crops commonly grown in your area.

    You can also find this script online at: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/88-10script_en.asp.


    Notes to Broadcaster

    Soil consists of water, nutrients, organic matter, air, and a large population of living organisms, among other components. A good soil must have the proper structure and texture so that it can hold water and nutrients for the plant.

    The following script features a radio host and his special guest, Dr. Rice Panicle, who is an expert on rice cultivation. In this program, Dr. Panicle is taking phone calls from farmers with questions about soil management in the rice field.



    Radio host
    Dr. Rice Panicle: Rice Specialist
    Farmer 1: Caller #1
    Farmer 2: Caller #2
    Farmer 3: Caller #3
    Farmer 4: Caller #4

    Signature tune to introduce program

    Host: Dear listeners, welcome to the program. Today in our studio we are pleased to have Dr. Rice Panicle, an expert on rice cultivation. He’s here to answer your questions about how to manage soils and get higher rice yields. Dr. Panicle, welcome, and thanks for accepting our invitation.

    Dr. Panicle: Thank you. I’m happy to be with you on the air.

    Host: Before we take any calls I want to remind listeners that if you have a question, and you’d like to call in to the program, please feel free to do so. Dr. Panicle will answer all your questions about soil management in the rice field. So you are going to have solutions to all your concerns! I see we already have a caller. May I know who’s on the line please?

    Farmer 1: Hello, yes, my name’s Felix.

    Dr. Panicle: Good day, Felix. We’re listening.

    Farmer 1: What I’d like to know is, how can I improve my soil so that I get a better harvest?

    Dr. Panicle: Well, you can think about it this way. Your plants need food! So you need to give it to them. And by that I mean fertilizers. You can apply organic fertilizers, such as manure and compost, and you can apply mineral fertilizers. But remember, mineral fertilizers such as urea and NPK contain larger quantities of nutrients. Mineral fertilizers are a direct source of nutrients for plants.

    Farmer 1: Okay, but if I buy mineral fertilizers, how can I be sure that I choose the right one at the shop?

    Dr. Panicle: First, look at the colour. The white fertilizers, such as urea, contain only nitrogen. There are also coloured fertilizers. Do you know about them?

    Farmer 1: Yes. The coloured fertilizers contain a mix of nutrients.

    Dr. Panicle: Exactly. Coloured fertilizers contain a mix of nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. But not all white fertilizers or all coloured fertilizers contain the same amount of each nutrient. Make sure to check the numbers on the outside of the bag to see the amount of each nutrient the fertilizer contains.

    Host: Okay, thanks for your call, Felix. Now we have Boni on the line. Hello Boni!
    Farmer 2: Hello, and thanks for taking my call. Could you please tell me the best time to apply urea to rice?

    Dr. Panicle: Well, as I mentioned earlier, urea contains nitrogen. And nitrogen benefits rice during all stages of its growth. I recommend that you apply urea for the first time at the beginning of tillering.

    Farmer 2: At the beginning of tillering. So that’s two weeks after planting.

    Dr. Panicle: Yes, or one week after transplanting.

    Farmer 2: Is a single application enough?

    Dr. Panicle: No, not at all. You must apply urea a second time when the rice starts producing panicles. That period varies depending on the rice variety and the date of sowing. When the plant stems are bulging with panicles that are about to appear, that is too late to apply urea. The application must be done two weeks before that.

    Host: So it seems that the timing of application requires experience.

    Dr. Panicle: Yes, it does. In fact, some experienced farmers told me that they wait to see the new leaves appear above the rice canopy. When they also observe a slight change in the colour of the older leaves, they know the panicles have just started to develop. At that time they apply urea for a second time.

    Host: Thank you, Dr. Panicle. We’ll have a short break and then be back with our next caller.

    Musical break

    Host: And we’re back with Dr. Panicle, who is talking with us today about soil management in the rice field. We have another caller. Who’s on the line, please?

    Farmer 3: My name is Zola. Where I live we have mostly sandy soil. My question is, can I produce rice on a soil where there is sand?

    Dr. Panicle: A very good question! To answer it, I’m going to tell you about a small experiment. I want you to imagine that you have two jars. The first jar contains sand. The second jar contains clay. Imagine now that you are going to add some water to the first jar with the sand. What will happen?

    Farmer 3: The water will run quickly to the bottom.

    Dr. Panicle: Yes. Because the spaces between the grains of sand are big, so the water quickly finds a way to the bottom of the jar.

    Farmer 3: And if we add water to the jar with the clay?

    Dr. Panicle: The water will pass more slowly through the clay and will not go to the bottom of the jar that easily. From this observation, we can see that the more clay the soil contains, the more water it holds. The same is true for nutrients! On the other hand, when you have sandy soil, rain can wash fertilizers down into the soil far beyond the reach of plant roots. It is a big loss for you. So it’s better to grow rice on clay soil.

    Farmer 3: But my problem is that I only have sandy soil. Is there any way that I can make my sandy soil more fertile?

    Dr. Panicle: Yes, there are some things you can do. You can add organic matter such as farmyard manure and compost. They help soil to hold moisture and give it a good structure. And what is more important is that organic matter prevents nutrients in fertilizer from being washed away. So if there is no clay in your soil, you need first to add organic matter. I also suggest that you bury dung and grasses in the soil to increase organic matter. Once your soil contains organic matter, then you can add mineral fertilizer.

    Host: I hope that’s answered your question Zola, and thanks for your call. I’m sorry to say we only have time for one more caller and somebody is already on the line. Hello! What’s your question for Dr. Panicle?

    Farmer 4: Last year my rice harvest was poor. Because my plot is located at the foot of a hill, the rains during the previous year washed away all that is good. This year I want to produce rice on the same field. I’d like to know what kind of fertilizer I should apply.

    Dr. Panicle: Are there many stones in your field?

    Farmer 4: Yes. Because the plot is located at the foot of the hill, there are a lot of blocks and large rocks rolling down the hill, and they spread out over the land.

    Dr. Panicle: Generally, such soil has very low mineral content, and often it’s not useful to apply fertilizer. From what you are telling me, my opinion is that your plot is not good for rice. It’s better for you to plant fruit trees that have deep root systems and could better hold the soil together and reduce erosion. Does your farm stretch into lowland?

    Farmer 4: Yes, but I’m not the owner.

    Dr. Panicle: Then plant fruit trees or trees that could provide wood for heating or building. Or, you can plant grass strips or hedgerows around your plot. That helps to reduce erosion and trap runoff. Apart from that, if your soil doesn’t have any clay, then you need to apply organic matter, and then apply fertilizer. Have I answered your question? I hope so.

    Farmer 4: Yes you have. Thanks for your help.

    Host: Dr. Panicle, before we go, I myself have a question. I’ve noticed that many farmers remove rice straw from their fields after harvest. Is that a good idea? Or is it better to leave the straw on the field?

    Dr. Panicle: When you remove straw from the field after harvest, you are also removing the nutrients contained in the straw. So the soil in your field loses nutrients. I suggest that farmers leave the rice straw on their fields after harvest. That way, you are keeping nutrients in the field for the next crop.

    Host: Dr. Panicle, thank you for taking the time to be with us on the show. I certainly learned something about soil management and I am sure our listeners have also found your advice useful.

    Listeners, thanks for being here, and please join us again next week. And don’t forget, if you would like to get a copy of the video program about soil management and rice, please contact me at this radio station [the broadcaster should give a mobile number or the number of the radio station. Please see notes below for information about obtaining rice videos from the Africa Rice Center].

    Closing signature tune and program identification


    If you are interested in receiving videos about different rice technologies, please contact Jonas Wanvoeke at the Africa Rice Center (j.wanvoeke@cgiar.org; +229 21 35 01 88; 01 BP 2031, Cotonou, Benin). For a list of rice videos available, please see: www.warda.org/warda/guide-video.asp

    Contributed by: Felix S. Houinsou, Rural Radio Consultant/Africa Rice Center (WARDA), Radio Immaculée Conception, Benin, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
    Reviewed by: Paul Van Mele, Program Leader, Learning and Innovation Systems/Africa Rice Center (WARDA)
    Information provided by:
    Sitapha Diatta, Soil Scientist/Africa Rice Center (WARDA)
    Abibou Niang, Research Assistant, Soil Fertility/Africa Rice Center (WARDA)
    Michael Misiko, Social Scientist/Africa Rice Center (WARDA)

    Thanks to:
    -The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for supporting participatory research with women rice farmers in lowlands.
    -The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, and IFAD for supporting the production of this script, and for translating the rice videos into local languages.
    -Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)