|Reaping rewards: Farmers use laser-controlled field-levelling equipment in the southern province of Long An's Vinh Hung District. The machinery helps reduce costs for seeds and fertiliser. — VNS Photo Courtesy of tuoitre.vn
HCM CITY (VNS)— Local authorities in southern Long An Province are encouraging farmers to use laser-controlled field-levelling equipment to reduce production costs and water usage.
The machinery helps level the fields from a difference of 30-35cm to only three cm, creating ideal conditions for wet-rice production and reducing costs for seeds, fertilisers and the use of irrigation water.
In the 2012 autumn-summer crop, Long An began applying the technology on 90ha of four communes, with 90 farming households taking part.
Levelling fields has helped reduce the use of rice seeds by 10-30 kilos per hectare and the quantity of fertiliser by 5-10 per cent. And, the pumping time for irrigation water has fallen by 30-50 per cent. Output has also increased.
Pham Van Yen, who began to apply the technology on his 5.5ha of fields for the rice variety OM6976 in the 2012 summer-autumn crop, harvested a yield of 7.6 tonnes per hectare compared to 5.5 tonnes in the 2011 summer-autumn crop.
His fields are located in Say Giang Hamlet in Vinh Hung District's Khanh Hung Commune.
The production costs of Yen's rice fields fell from VND19.8 million (US$940) per hectare in the 2011 summer-autumn crop to VND14.3 million ($680) in the 2012 summer-autumn crop.
Similarly, another 17 farmers in Say Giang Hamlet who used the technology in last year's autumn-summer rice crop saw increased yields and lower production costs.
Nguyen Huu Khanh, one of the farmers, said his two-ha field had an average per hectare yield of 10 tonnes. He earned a profit of VND25 million per hectare for this year's winter-spring crop.
"At first, I was a little worried when I had to spend VND4 million per hectare to level my field," Khanh said.
However, fields using the technology only need to be levelled once every five years.
Le Quoc Dung, director of the Long An Province Centre for the Advancement of Science and Technology, said the area of fields using the technology had increased to 200ha during this year's winter-spring crop.
Based on the positive results of the past two rice crops, Long An will expand this technology application to more large-scale rice fields and later to rice co-operatives, he said.
In the future, the technology will also be applied on the province's zoned 40,00ha of high-quality rice.
Nguyen Van Xuan, director of the HCM City University of Agriculture and Forestry's Centre for Agricultural Energy and Machinery, said the technology has been used in the US, Japan and Australia for more than 30 years.
In 2004, the International Rice Research Institute transferred laser-controlled levelling equipment and technology to the Centre for Agricultural Energy and Machinery to implement the technology in Viet Nam.
In 2005, the centre introduced the technology on an area of 10.2 ha in southern Bac Lieu Province.
Since 2006, this technology has been used in An Giang, Lam Dong, Bai Ria- Vung Tau and Thua Thien Hue provinces.
However, the country has only 10 sets of laser-controlled field-levelling equipment which can level 400ha a crop, Xuan said. Of the figure, Long An accounts for six sets.
In 2004, India had only one set of laser-controlled field levelling equipment, and this number has increased to more than 10,000 sets, levelling more than 1.2 million hectares, Xuan said.
Dung from the Long An Province Centre for the Advancement of Science and Technology, said the machine's high cost was one major reason explaining why farmers had not been interested in the technology.
A set of laser-controlled field levelling equipment, including a tractor and laser-controlled levelling equipment, costs VND700-800 million ($33,000-38,000).
With 1.5 million hectares of rice, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta has high potential for applying this technology, Dung said.
People who provide laser-controlled field levelling services can recover the cost of buying the equipment after one or two years, said Dung.
Many farmers in Long An have registered to buy the equipment to level their fields, he added. —VNS