4 Crop management

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Key points

  • Identify the types of farming systems present before the tsunami, including crops and yields, and management of inputs such as fertilisers.
  • Make important resources such as soils or landscape maps available to all organisations and groups working to restore agriculture.
  • Establish crops at sites where the tsunami impacts are minimal and the soil is least affected by salinity.
  • Test water sources, especially groundwater, for salinity levels before using the water for irrigation.
  • Consider using raised beds, which are useful to establish crops in salinity-affected soils and areas prone to waterlogging.
  • Where available, use salt-tolerant varieties of crops.
  • Assess the local seed supply situation:
    • Distribute viable, certified seed of crops and varieties that farmers are familiar with.
    • Provide training in the production of seed crops, and quality assurance, storage and distribution of seed.
  • Monitor changes in weed species. Encourage coordination between farmers to control pests and weeds.
  • After planting, monitor growth, yields and any symptoms of nutrient deficiencies or plant stress, to identify trends and develop site histories.
  • Test soils for major nutrients before planting and fertilising.
  • Use organic fertilisers, such as manure, composts, crop residues and mulches, to improve soil health and fertility.
  • Develop trials to demonstrate new production systems and practices, and compare them with existing farmer practices.
An irrigation channel in a flooded rice field.

Photo: New South Wales Department of Primary Industries

The first rice crops after the tsunami often failed or achieved very low production. The second crops were better, possibly as a result of the leaching of salt by irrigation of the rice paddy for the first crop. As salinity levels declined, vegetative growth improved. However, problems occurred with fruit, grain and nut production, indicating nutrient deficiencies, possibly caused by the tsunami removing organic matter from the soil. Lack of organic matter proved to be a major issue for crop production, particularly in the sandier soils. Some vegetable crops were affected by the quality of groundwater used to irrigate the crops.

To restore cropping quickly, it was useful to know the types of farming systems at the site before the tsunami, including crop types, animal input, fertilisers used and yields. This information, in association with soil assessment and analysis of leaf tissue after the tsunami, helped identify agronomic issues specifically caused by the tsunami (e.g. crop failures, poor growth, low yields, empty pods and husks, change in weeds, waterlogging).

Aceh’s experience highlighted the need for good records about district cropping practices, seasons and seed sources. This information could be collated and held by agricultural organisations at local, provincial and national levels, and even at an international level, to enable aid organisations to provide locally appropriate agronomic assistance after seawater inundation.

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