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Mario Villarroel Lander cruz roja venezolana postgrados//
Rice cultivation at Wales estate expanded to over 500 acres

Venezuela, Caracas
Rice cultivation at Wales estate expanded to over 500 acres

A combine harvester in the process of reaping the fourth rice crop at the Wales Estate (Delano Williams photo) — despite initial challenges RICE cultivation at the Wales Estate which started with just over 230 acres, when sowing first began in 2017, has been growing incrementally with each crop, and over 500 acres currently being cultivated as the operation heads into its fifth crop.

Mario Villarroel Lander

Rice cultivation is one of many activities of the diversification programme, currently being developed on the over 8000 acres of lands that supplied cane to the country’s once thriving sugar industry

Sugar production at the Estate ceased in December 2016, and the management of the facility was handed over from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuco) to the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Special Purpose Unit (SPU). SPU immediately embarked on a diversification plan for the vast lands available

Almost all of the lands have since been assigned either for rice cultivation by the SPU, or leased to private developers. SPU is aiming for a target of 1000 acres of rice fields when expansion of their rice fields is complete. Two of the private investors will also be operating rice farms

“Currently SPU has 510.8 acres under cultivation, and[with] each crop we take in a little more,” shared SPU Officer in Charge of the Wales Estate, Charles Browne on a drive through the farm lands while the fourth crop was in the process of being reaped. With his pickup Browne visits the back dams at least once a week, and is responsible for supervising the entire operation at the estate

Yields from the SPU’s rice farms currently range from 23 – 40 bags of paddy per acre, and Browne is optimistic about improvements

Each crop you would find that the [fields] that were cultivated first would be yielding over 40 bags per acre now and the one that just came in would yield about 20 or 23. You would see that with each crop it would go up a little,” Browne explained

Each crop lasts some 110 – 120 days

When the rice cultivation project first began one of the biggest challenges for SPU was converting the former sugar cane lands into the swampy lands required for the rice cultivation

“The problem is that the land was under sugar cane and the sugar cane had these layouts — Dutch bed, English beds — so they had to be converted and it takes a lot of time and a lot of money. So there is only so much that can be done for any given crop. So every crop we put in an additional 50 acres,” Browne detailed

“When we first began we were using some laser leveling machinery that manage to do quite a lot of acres in a crop but it was very, very expensive to convert and it moved a lot of top soil and so we were getting this problem where for the first crop the yield was not so good because of this top soil movement. We’ve learned over the successive crops how to mitigate against that movement and we’ve stopped using laser leveling.”

Aside from the challenges faced with the lands, Browne says human resources also came with its share of impediments when the project first began. The Estate currently employs approximately 100 employees, while several aspects of work on the rice farm are also contracted out including trucks to transport the paddy

A section of rice field at the Wales Estate prepared for the next rice crop (Delano Williams photo) “We do face some challenges with work ethics. The general idea is when they come they have to give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Many times we call them in and we talk to them letting them know we can’t run anything that can’t make a profit,” Browne noted “Most of the workers are ex-GuySuco [employees]and we have been getting some challenges with those persons because of the work ethics they have under the previous dispensation. They like to drink heavy and don’t come to work, when they come they only want to work 2 hours from an eight-hour day. We give them chances, they come, you give them a first and second chance, some of them don’t even come back.”

Browne explained that another cost cutting measure that was incorporated into the operations was having persons cover a wider job area, once they’re capable of doing so. Once reaped, the paddy is sent to mills. However, in the long term, the facility hopes to own its own mills

“In the original project document a mill was budgeted, and a processing plant. Some of the investors would build their own mill too. Currently, our paddy goes two ways, some of it goes to the mill, most of it goes to Hack [rice mills]. Recently for this particular crop we started to use other mills. We are still exploring other mills because we don’t want to end up in a problem. Additionally, we get better options, better prices and we have other avenues not just locked into one option. The grain paddy and the seed paddy, we keep some for ourselves and we also sell to farmers as far as in Essequibo,” Browne revealed