Higher yields for rice growers in Malaysia

Successful partnership
Malaysian rice growers’ challenges are typical for a country in Asia, where 90% of the world’s rice is produced and consumed. On a wider scale, rice is a key crop in any approach to feeding the world. Further improvements in yield are needed to meet the expected growth in global rice consumption. Bayer’s SeedGrowth business has partnered with two seed companies in Malaysia to help farmers tackle rice-specific challenges and achieve higher yields.

The highly diffuse Malaysian market, dominated by smallholder rice growers, presented Bayer with the tricky challenge of how to distribute ROUTINE® START. The path to success was via two well-established Malaysian seed companies, which already had smoothly functioning distribution channels.

HAJI MD. NOR BIN HAJI ABD. RAHMAN (M) SDN. BHD has been involved in the paddy seed business for around 28 years. The company is located in Sekinchan, Selangor, one of Malaysia’s rice-growing areas. In the face of stiff competition from other seed companies, the company’s director, Dato Mansor bin Haji Md. Noor, saw the need to improve the quality of his paddy seed production: “We saw that SeedGrowth is the best solution to improve the quality of paddy seed. Since June 2018, we have treated more than 360 tons of paddy seed with ROUTINE START and supplied the treated seed to thousands of farmers. ROUTINE START acts as a kind of disease management antibiotic for the plants and encourages good root development so the plants produce more tillers and higher yields.” The benefits are cost savings through not having to apply foliar fungicides for up to 60 days after sowing, healthier paddy plants with more tillers, and higher yields and income if the SeedGrowth solution is applied with other Bayer products.

How has Bayer invested in this partnership? Bayer’s SeedGrowth experts helped install a continuous batch seed treater at the partner’s processing facility to enable highly accurate treatment of the rice seeds. With its SeedGrowth experts, Bayer has the in-house expertise to assist and advise in its installation and operation. Bayer also runs joint field programs with its partner to train rice farmers and agricultural advisors on the benefits of this seed treatment technology.

Clear benefits of partnership with SeedGrowth

PERTAMA PADI (MALAYSIA) SDN. BHD. is located in Tajar, Kadah, and has been involved in the paddy seed business since 2000. The company supplies paddy seed to every Malaysian state. Before the collaboration with Bayer began in early 2018, the company produced and sold non-treated paddy seed. But the director, Chan Lye Yew, was concerned about the quality of the seed his company sold, and saw the benefits of partnering with Bayer’s SeedGrowth business to introduce an integrated seed treatment system. Since the partnership began, the company has produced and marketed more than 100 tons of paddy seed treated with ROUTINE START. “The system from Bayer brings more benefits to growers, especially in yield enhancement,” Chan Lye Yew points out.

Growing rice in Malaysia

In Malaysia, rice is grown on the Malay Peninsula and Borneo Islands. Paddy production in 2018 was around 2.9 million tons. With yields estimated to be close to average, this bumper harvest was the result of a record cultivated area. However, most rice farmers are smallholders who grow the crop on plots as small as a quarter of a hectare. The temperature range and rainfall distribution in Malaysia are suitable for year-round rice cultivation, even under rain-fed conditions. However, the harvested area is mainly made up of irrigated paddy fields. There is a high level of mechanization in irrigated rice production, and in recent decades most lowland farmers have switched from manual transplanting to direct seeding by broadcasting germinated seeds to wet soils or by line-drilling non-germinated seeds into dry soils.

Rice farmers in Malaysia are confronted with the challenges of weed competition (especially weedy rice), pests (mainly brown plant hoppers and stem borers), and diseases (mainly rice blast and bacterial leaf blight in some areas). They also face challenges such as a high level of dependency on foreign labor for sowing and applying crop protection products, and soil salinity in some low-lying areas. All these factors impact their yield production in every rice-growing season.

Solving a rice-specific problem

Rice is different from other field crops in that the seed is often soaked in water for 24 to 36 hours to pre-germinate it. Unfortunately, this process can wash seed treatment products off the seed and greatly reduce their efficacy. This is the biggest challenge in developing products for treating rice.

The solution to this rice-specific problem is Bayer’s seed treatment expertise and advice. A coating ensures that the fungicidal seed treatment ROUTINE START stays on the seed during the soaking process. This coating is so effective that it makes industrialized seed treatment possible, i.e. the seed can be treated industrially at a seed company before soaking instead of on the farm after soaking. This reduces the workload for farmers and ensures accurate application of the seed treatment product. Moreover, in Malaysia where most of the rice growers use around 140kg of rice seeds per hectare, the most practical method is to deploy ready-treated seed from a seed company rather than treating the seed on the farm.

ROUTINE START primarily provides protection against rice blast, the world’s most economically significant rice disease, but also against bakanae, a seed-borne fungal disease. This innovative seed treatment product is a pre-mix of two active ingredients, Isotianil and Trifloxystrobin, with different modes of action. Isotianil acts as a plant resistance inducer, making the plant less susceptible to biotic and abiotic stress factors. Trifloxystrobin is a classic Qol inhibitor fungicide. Rice growers in Malaysia, where ROUTINE START was introduced in 2015, have since reported a larger quantity of healthy rice seedlings, which give the plant a better start for higher yields at harvest.

By combining these two active ingredients in ROUTINE START, Bayer has created an innovative systemic seed treatment product for effective control of rice blast and bakanae diseases during the first 60 days after sowing. Moreover, ROUTINE START saves rice growers at least one or two foliar fungicide applications during these first 60 days. This addresses the labor shortages faced by Malaysian rice growers and eliminates any possible risk to the sprayer or the environment during knapsack spraying of foliar products.

Expanding the biological spectrum

ROUTINE START was launched in China in 2019. More countries followed in 2020. Bayer also expanded the biological spectrum covered by this seed-applied technology. By including seed treatments to manage sheath blight, stem borer, and leaf folder, Bayer aims to give rice farmers a complete solution during the first 60 days to eliminate the need for foliar sprays and lots of hard work. Both partners are fully supportive of Bayer’s efforts.

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