Rice grown in Thailand and most of Asia is done on a small scale with garden-tractor-size equipment plus a lot of back-pain work. Improved mechanization and production technology would appear to be as important as improved seed breeding for drastically higher rice production to match increased world demand for rice.
Less hand labor and speeded up planting and harvesting would allow some non-producing acres to be put into production—although water limitations must be dealt with. Modernization from the way rice has been grown for centuries will continue to be a slow process because there is a belief that Thai rice quality is related to the method of production.
Delegates and media to the World Rice Standard Summit visited major rice field production and a rice mill in Nakhonsawan, Thailand, as a follow up to a morning panel discussion on “The Quality of Thai Rice & Thai Hom Mali Rice Standard.” A caravan of three double-decker buses and several mini-vans descended on a rice research center building and rice paddies adjacent to the village’s modern school.
As a side note, a total of 63 Peace Corp volunteers are in the region assisting villagers in various educational programs including teaching English to grade-school students.
Mile after mile the scene from the buses was the same—flooded fields divided into irregular acre-size paddies by low levees. Farmers/workers were handling jobs in knee-high water and mud—tilling the ground behind big-wheeled garden tractors, moving small portable water pumps or spraying chemicals from backpack sprayers.
At the research center, demonstrations by village women showed how rice seedlings are transplanted by hand or by a new two-wheel garden tractor type of automatic seedling planter. On display were bottles of liquid fertilizer made from either manure or low-grade commercial fertilizer.
Down the road from the village and research center is a modern rice mill producing rice for the largest food processing company in Thailand—C.P. International Trade Company, Ltd. All the delegates and media were given a close-up tour by way of the catwalks of all the equipment in operation. The mill didn’t meet occupational safety standards of the U.S. (no pulley covers, no stair rails, minimal dust exhaust), but it appeared to be producing high-quality rice without contaminants, which meets the company’s mission of “being a leader of producing superior quality rice.”
The tour guide explained that the mill went into operation in 2006 and has a 500 metric ton per day milling capacity. The types of rice milled include white rice, Jasmine rice and Pathumtani fragrance rice. The mill has drying and storage silo capacity of 20,000 metric tons. Steps in the milling were shown and explained: pre-cleaner to remove impurities, de-husker for hulling (resulting in brown rice), de-stoner for removing even more impurities, pan sifter to separate small broken rice, polisher for smoothing the rice surface, color sorter for removing non-white and non-quality kernels and continuous magnetic grids to attract any iron filings.
The majority of the rice is bulk packaged in 100 kilo bags. Other bulk packaging possibilities include five kilos, 25 kilos, 50 kilos or according to customer request.