IRRI agronomy challenge: how do you do agronomy?

Author // Dr. Achim Dobermann Categories // Achim Dobermann's blog

Setting the stage... Leigh Vial and Achim Dobermann discuss why they're going to try and grow a rice crop.
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As a scientist and research leader I have been involved in rice research for 25 years, in many countries. My own research background is in soil science and agronomy, areas in which I have published numerous scientific articles and also a few books. But there is something that I keep wondering about: why is it that many of the research findings and technologies developed by scientists don’t seem to be used by rice farmers?

We show in our experiments that with excellent crop management practices we can achieve much higher yields than many rice farmers, but is what we do really practical? Can it actually be adapted and adopted by them? Do we scientists actually know ourselves how to grow a decent rice crop? Might it be that what we demonstrate in small experimental plots or what we recommend to farmers may not work in a normal rice field?

To find this out, I have teamed up with Leigh Vial, the Head of the IRRI Experiment Station. Leigh has a big advantage: until recently he used to be a commercial rice grower in Australia. However, he also hasn’t really grown a rice crop under the conditions where we do most of our work - small rice paddies in the humid tropics. So, Leigh and I are hoping that by teaming up we can figure out how to do things right in the field. We want to practice what we preach.


Grow a high-yielding dry-season rice crop in a typical rice field in the IRRI farm at Los Banos, Philippines, following best management practices recommended by IRRI.

Leigh Vial (left) and Achim Dobermann (right)

Leigh Vial (left) and Achim Dobermann (right) team up to try and find out if recommended best management practices are practical for farmers.


We have chosen a single field of 0.25 ha size (25 x 100 m), which is quite typical for Asian rice farming. The soil is a deep, heavy clay. The location is in the humid tropics. In the dry season rice needs to be grown with irrigation.

We will obtain all information on recommended Best Management Practices (BMPs) from publicly available IRRI sources, particularly the Rice Knowledge Bank. We will do most field operations ourselves, to experience on the ground what works and what doesn’t. We’ll adjust as we go, just as a farmer would do while learning.

We will explain and document what we’re doing and we’ll share our experiences with you.

Join us on our learning journey for the next 4 months. It’ll be great fun. But, better, go ahead and try it yourself, out there in the field.


About the Author

Dr. Achim Dobermann

Dr. Achim Dobermann

Achim is a soil scientist and agronomist with 25 years experience working in Asia, North America and Europe. He is recognized internationally as an authority on science and technology for food security and sustainable management of the world's major cereal cropping systems. He has authored or co-authored over 250 scientific papers and two books on nutrients in rice and has received numerous awards from various academic, government and industry organizations. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America.

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