Most people who grow rice in the Philippines enter the business through their parents or family networks. That said, anyone can become a rice farmer. Provided your operation is financially sound, growing rice can be a way to lead a prosperous life with better income than you might find in many urban jobs.
Below are some of the basic steps to become a rice farmer. Note that although these are the ideal basic stages, not everyone will have the same background, and one could always become a rice farmer without necessarily going through all of this. Rice cultivation also requires a lifetime of study and expertise to excel and will not be adequately covered here.
1.) Do a feasibility study
A feasibility study will help you understand if being a rice farmer is a sustainable business, given a set of circumstances. It will also help you better understand the input and paperwork requirements before you start spending money. The Philippine Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Rice Research Institute are just a few of the many institutions that can provide assistance at this stage.
Some rice farmers don’t care about this initial step, as they can look at their historical success or failure as well as that of other farmers in their general area. However, if you are new to rice farming or planting in an unfamiliar location, it may be important to take time to analyze the feasibility and profitability of planting rice due to the extremely high level of commitment required.
2.) Obtain funding
This is a complex topic that could not be covered in a single article. In any case, potential rice farmers will need sufficient funds to cover the initial cost of operations. This will include the cost of labour, machinery, land rental or acquisition, seed purchases, fertilizers, irrigation, post-harvest processing, transport and marketing, to name a few.
The cost of these inputs should be understood at the feasibility study stage. If loans are needed, repayment terms should be compatible with your expected profits and the planned cycle of rice planting. To learn more about your options in terms of equipment, for example, check out this resource on rice farming equipment trusted by Filipino farmers.
3.) Select your rice variety
Rice comes in tens of thousands of different varieties. In practice, however, relatively few rice varieties are available in the Philippines for purchase as seed for planting.
Each variety has different requirements for irrigation, pest resistance, salinity tolerance, labor, fertilizers and pesticides, etc. Different varieties of rice seed may also have different acquisition costs and yields, as well as marketing possibilities. The variety of rice should also be well suited to the terrain in which you plan to plant it.
4.) Find suitable ground
Unfortunately, not all rice farmers have the luxury of selecting the specific plot of land they can cultivate. While you can decide which land you can rent or buy, there are several factors you’ll want to consider if you’re considering growing rice.
Land suitability is relative to the crops you plan to grow. Rice is a semi-aquatic plant, so with few exceptions, most rice varieties grow well on easily irrigated land with a high proportion of clay-rich soils. Generally speaking, however, rice is a relatively forgiving plant to grow.
Other areas to consider are local planting seasons, road availability, post-harvest facilities, and the transport and communication infrastructure needed to get your crops to market.
5.) Prepare your ground
The preparation for sowing will be different for each case, depending on the specific plot of land and the variety of rice you plan to grow. Either way, you’ll want to prepare the soil by removing weeds, tilling the soil, as well as preparing other inputs such as irrigation infrastructure.
6.) Use Proper Planting Method
Rice can be planted from seed or transplanted from nursery grown plants. Transplanting is the most common method of planting rice in the Philippines. Both processes are usually done manually, but can also be facilitated by machines.
Either way, you’ll want to use the method that best suits your needs, based on your feasibility study or early assessments.
7.) Manage water, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide and labor inputs
Now that your rice is planted, you need to make sure your crop thrives and gets to market. Management of water, labor and other important inputs must be done daily until harvest time. Managing these will be different depending on the variety of rice and the specific approaches you choose.
8.) Harvest and thresh your crop
After 3-5 months, depending on the rice variety, your rice crop should be ready to harvest. At this point, you can use one or more manual or machine-assisted harvesting systems to harvest your crop.
After harvesting the rice, you will need to thresh it for milling and eventual sale. Threshing is the process of removing intact rice grains from the stalks, which, like harvesting, can also be done by a wide variety of manual and machine-assisted methods. Threshing should be done immediately after harvest to reduce waste and ensure the rice retains its quality.
9.) Additional post-harvest treatment
Most of the rice sold is Strawberry, that is, their fibrous husks are removed for long-term storage and consumption. In most cases, the grain is further polished to produce the white rice we know.
In the vast majority of cases in the Philippines, rice farmers do not do their own milling and polishing due to the high cost of setting up a profitable milling operation. Most rice farmers have to pay a third-party mill for grinding and polishing. Depending on the situation, farmers may need to own or rent some sort of storage facility to store their rice before and after milling.
10.) Marketing and Sales
After the rice is milled, farmers can either sell the grains themselves in the market or sell them to a rice trader. Selling your own rice can be a different challenge in itself and may not be feasible for all farms. Selling to a dealer provides the farmer with a larger market but may reduce the profitability of each crop.
In either case, the quality of transport and communication infrastructure in your area will be key to reducing waste, ensuring a wider market and maximizing profitability.
11.) Crop Rotation to Maintain Soil Health
After harvest, many rice farmers take the extra step of crop rotation. In the context of post-harvest rice cultivation, this often means planting legumes and other crops such as watermelon that return nutrients to the soil and maximize land profitability. Good crop rotation practices will help ensure less fertilizer is needed in the next rice planting cycle.
Should you become a rice farmer?
Given the massive demand for rice in the Philippines, one could be forgiven for thinking that rice farming operations are extremely profitable. However, this is not true for all rice farms, as farmers face a multitude of expenses before earning an income. However, when properly planned, rice farming can indeed be very rewarding, providing both financial stability and the pride of helping feed a growing nation.