PHOTO STORY: Sustainable Grain Cropping and 'Adopting' a Paddy Field on Taiwan's Northeast Coast

PHOTO STORY: Sustainable Grain Cropping and 'Adopting' a Paddy Field on Taiwan's Northeast Coast
Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
What you need to know

A new venture between local farmers and an agricultural company are letting people experience the life of a rice farmer in Yilan county.

Hidden in the back roads along Taiwan's northeastern coastline is Lin Yong-fa's (林永發) farm.

Lin, 85, has lived on the farm, in Zhuangwei Township, Yilan, since he was a young child. In 2014, he was approached by an agriculture company, Tiandong Rice, to collaborate on a farming project involving other farmers in Zhuangwei, the smallest township in Yilan County. The company wanted to promote sustainable farming and conservation of the Yilan Plain, famous for its rice and spring onions, as well as its diverse wildlife and hot springs.

Cooperating with local farmers, Tiandong Rice grows and sells organic rice. The public can also "adopt" a paddy field for NT$7,000 (US$ 230) a season. Donors pledge in late February before the harvest season in March the following year.

In addition to 30 bags of rice (totaling 90 pounds), donors are invited to experience the three stages of rice cultivation — transplanting rice seedlings, weeding, and reaping — and to meet the farmers that grow the rice.

As of 2017, Tiandong Rice has seven farmers working on the project with a total area of over 14 acres.

Two types of rice are planted on the farms: Penglai and Taichung Indica 10. Penglai is a hybrid between Japonica rice and Indica rice that was developed by Japanese agronomist Eikichi Iso (磯永吉) during the Japanese colonial era. Because it is non-endemic to Taiwan, Penglai rice is not easily susceptible to diseases such as bacterial blight which can affect the quality of the kernels.

Once the crops are reaped, the panicles are gathered for threshing, which is the process of removing the edible grain from the inedible main stalk. Grains are then taken to a separate location for drying since moisture can cause discoloration, mold, or attract pests. Drying must take place within 24 hours of reaping and threshing for an ideal grain quality.

The rice harvesting season is usually from March to July, with a 120-day growth period. Because Tiandong Rice promotes organic and sustainable farming, pesticides are never used, leading weeds to cohabit the paddies with rice grains. Lin Zhe-an (林哲安), the company's sales director, does not perceive this to be a problem as native specimens such as the watercock and Asian lady beetle make their homes among the vegetation. During the winter when the northeast coast is prone to rain, the paddy fields also become the feeding grounds for native waterfowls such as the Northern lapwing and Taiga bean goose.

Lin Zhe-an's goal is to promote ecological relationships in a habitat.

"Everything has a purpose in a natural ecosystem," he says.

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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
The healthy Taichung Indica 10 is on the right side of the field while the more sickly Penglai is on the left.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
Symptoms of bacterial blight include the wilting and drying of leaves which feature yellow, wavy lesions along the margin of the leaf, progressing to the base.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/News Lens
Around 50 volunteers gathered on Lin Yong-fa's farm to harvest Penglai rice.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/News Lens
Lin who studied forestry at National Taiwan University is teaching patrons the proper technique of reaping grains.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
Patrons cut the panicles using sickles, pulling the blade towards themselves in a saw-like motion.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
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Farmers will replough the fields for the next harvesting season after the donor’s final session in mid-July.
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A stationary treadle thresher which can yield a larger amount of grain.
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The leftover straw is bundled up and kept as soil improver or livestock feed. This way, farmers minimize waste and maximize efficiency.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
Grain crops are sifted through a mid-size sieve that removes impurities such as excess straw, leaves, soil and stone particles.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin/The News Lens
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Because the paddies are flooded for most of the year, mid-summer is the only time donors are allowed to tour the rice fields.
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Photo Credit: Shannon Lin / The News Lens
Fragrant flatsedge is one among the many plants the inhabit Lin's rice paddies.

Editor: Olivia Yang