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Simple Tools to Enable Decision-Making

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on January 7th, 2011

Source: Nourishing the Planet: Worldwatch Institute

Photo: IRRI

From “Simple, Low-cost Color Chart Promotes Fertilizer Efficiency for Asian Rice Farmers” by Matt Styslinger:

Access to nitrogen fertilizers can mean the difference between success and failure of an entire year’s investment for an Asian rice farmer. But overuse of fertilizer can degrade the long-term quality of the soil and water resources on which they depend—and can eat away at precious little profits. But researchers have discovered that rice leaves themselves can give clues about how much nitrogen is needed for optimal yield.

A new 4-panel leaf color chart (LCC) that corresponds to actual colors of rice leaves has been developed for rice cultivation in Asia—the chart was created by the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) in collaboration with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE). The LCC consists of plastic panels, each with distinctly different shades of green—ranging from yellowish green to dark green. LCCs can be used by farmers in the field to gauge how much nitrogen fertilizer is needed for efficient use, and to maximize rice yields.

The LCC is used at critical growth stages by simply holding a rice leaf against the panels. A farmer can tell whether the crop has received too much nitrogen or is nitrogen deficient, by comparing leaf color too LCC panels. This provides real-time guidance for when to apply, and when not to apply fertilizer. Any color outside the range of the four panels would signal extreme nitrogen deficiency or excess.


This effective, low-cost tool helps farmers improve their nitrogen fertilizer management, improving their prospects for success. “Smallholder farmers benefitted from the low cost [about US$1 a unit] and the learning that was associated with it,” says Witt. “It wasn’t just the chart, but also learning when the plant really needs the nitrogen and observing leaf color. Once farmers used the LCC for two or three seasons,{they} adjusted their nitrogen management, and they developed an eye for the optimal green leaf color.Managing soil fertility and having adequate tools to be able to communicate soil fertility to farmers is essential to sustainable agriculture and food security.”

Read the full article by Matt Styslinger for Worldwatch.

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