Malaysia: Scorching heat affecting rice, fruits and vegetable yields

Scorching heat can affect rice yield
NURBAITI HAMDAN The Star 19 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Extreme high temperatures can irreversibly damage rice yield and grain quality, causing a shortage in production, said Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi).

Its Climate Change, Adaptation and Mitigation Programme, Agrobiodiversity and Environment Research Centre deputy director Norlida Mohamed Hamim said rice thrived in hot and dry to humid climates.

However, she said extreme heat episodes could cause damage to the yield and quality as well as plant processes such as germination and fertilisation.

“Rice is highly susceptible to heat stress, particularly during the reproductive and ripening stages.

“Extremely high temperatures – even for a few hours – during flowering can cause complete sterility while during ripening, this can lead to reduced grain filling and poor milling quality, resulting in more broken grains.

“In combination with other constraints, such as lack of water, canopy temperatures can increase even further. Unfortunately, hot days and warmer nights have increased recently,” she told The Star.

A 2°C rise in temperature could lead to a 13% reduction in padi yield while drought – or a 15% decrease in seasonal rainfall – could lead to a drop in yield of up to 80%.

The hot and dry weather could also increase the population of rice pest, which could contribute to the decline in rice yields.

“Lack of water, irregular rainfall patterns and water pressures will increase the intensity of some diseases of rice such as ‘brown spot and blast’ (rice leaf blast),” added Norlida.

On Thursday, The Star reported that the Government was ready to import more rice in case of shortage due to the persisting El Nino phenomenon.

Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman had said that Malaysia imported 30% of rice for the nation’s consumption while the other 70% came from local growers.

“If production falls, we will increase the import to offset the drop in local supply. Of course, that will be a temporary measure,” he said.

This came as padi farmers in the rice bowl states of Kedah and Perlis complained that they had yet to start their replanting season despite having gotten their soil ready as there was no water.

According to Mardi, one of the ways to tackle the weather issue was by breeding for new rice cultivars or varieties, which were more tolerant to higher temperatures, more efficient in water use and with a longer ripening phases to ensure enough grain filling to cope with the changed climatic scenario.

This, she said, could possibly be done through genetic engineering.

Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada), however, advised farmers not to panic just yet as there is still enough water supply for this year’s first farming season.

Mada is an agency under the Agriculture and Agro-based Ministry responsible for the development and management of the padi industry in Kawasan Muda.

Its general manager Fouzi Ali said water levels at three dams in the area was at 81.77% capacity.

“The reservoir level is comfortable compared to the minimum of 202,342ha (550,000 acres) or 679mil cubic metres of water needed to start a farming season.

“This reservoir is sufficient for the first farming season,” he said in a statement yesterday.

The current reservoir level is at 404,455ha (999,432 acres) with 1,233mil cubic metres of water.

Mada has also issued an irrigation and planting schedule for farmers in Kawasan Muda, a 100,685ha area in Kedah and Perlis dedicated to padi farming.

The schedule, which takes effect starting March 30, is placed at strategic locations in Kawasan Muda.

“With high levels of water at the dams, there shouldn’t be any critical problems. It is important for all farmers to follow the schedule to avoid water wastage,” said Fouzi.

There are two padi farming seasons a year – from March until August and from September until February.

Prices of vegetables up due to El Nino
The Star 20 Mar 16;

JOHOR BARU: The El Nino phenomena has not only contributed to a rise in temperatures but to vegetable prices as well.

Many sellers claim that the dry spell has hit their supply as the heat has affected output at farms.

A check at four wet markets in Kipmart, Larkin, Taman Johor Jaya and Tebrau showed the prices of cucumber, beans and spinach had increased while others remained the same.

A trader at Larkin market, Tai Men Ling, said the price of cucumber had gone up by 50%, from RM1 to RM1.50 per kilo.

“The rise in prices began on Tuesday. My suppliers told me the hot weather was to blame and the prices may continue to rise,” said Tai, 44.

Another seller, M. Thiruna­vuka­rasu, 50, said he had no choice but to raise the prices of ladies fingers by 6% from RM6.50 to RM6.90 per kilo.

“The increase started after the last festive season and it continued to rise due to hot weather,” he said.

The dry weather, however, has seen more people buying water­melons.

However, Ahmad Tarmizi Ahmad, 29, a fruit seller in the Tebrau market, said the price of watermelon was still RM1.80 per kilo.

“For this week, I have already sold 240 watermelons and the hot weather has become a great opportunity for fruit sellers to earn some profits,” he said, adding that he would normally sell between 150 and 180 watermelons.

Mangoes going bananas
ARNOLD LOH The Star 20 Mar 16;

KANGAR: The heatwave is causing weird happenings in orchards in Perlis that grow one of the most expensive mangoes in the world.

The trees of the Harumanis mango, which are sold at RM80 to RM100 per kg in Taiwan and Japan, are fruiting sporadically and threatening to make its price soar even higher this year.

“Trees of the same species are supposed to flower as one, but this year, my trees are flowering months apart,” said Harumanis orchardist Zaitun Yahaya, 61.

To prove her point, Zaitun showed her trees to a team from The Star visiting the state to see how the people there were coping with the heat that shot up to 38°C on Friday.

While maturing mangoes wrapped in paper dangled from some of her trees, many others bore only wilted flowers or were just beginning to bloom.

“I have been growing these mangoes for 30 years, and never before have my trees done this.

“By now, I should have large clumps of fruits on every tree but now the trees seem to be flowering only when they feel like it.”

Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development (Mardi) Perlis director Bookheri Md Ludin said the messed-up fruiting season meant farmers would have to work harder and the yield would be smaller this year.

“The delayed harvesting is going to cause a spike in the price. We have to be fair to the farmers,” he said.

Mardi’s Arau station manager Othman Ismail said Perlis was the best place in Malaysia to grow Harumanis, which is an Indonesian clone famed for its unrivalled sweetness and fine texture.

“But when the heat is too much, the flowers wilt before they can be pollinated. In some old orchards we are helping to rejuvenate, there are no fruits at all.”

The Harumanis mango retails in Malaysia at between RM30 and RM40 per kg.

Othman said the price would go up this year when the fruits were harvested next month but could not hazard a guess for now.

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