Chiang Rai's cool climate has long allowed it to produce the special rice that Japanese people love to eat. Rice cultivation follows a strict timetable.
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Photo on right is of a farmer transplanting rice seedlings to the field that they will grow to maturity in.
Read another Bangkok Post article today on why "farm sector reforms" are "essential" (Read article).
Japanese rice flourishes, Local Japonica strains gain favour by Walailak Keeratipipatpong
Chiang Rai, the northernmost province in Thailand, has become a major production base for Japanese rice because of its climate and locally developed strains of Japonica varieties that have similar qualities to those grown in Japan.
Farmers in Chiang Rai use a machine for transplanting 20-day-old rice seedlings. Japanese rice requires a punctual schedule for transplanting and fertilisation, which some Thai farmers find hard to adhere to. But the toil pays back handsomely, with Japanese paddy selling for 11 baht a kilogramme as opposed to eight baht for Thai white rice paddy.
With an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius in winter, the province and a few others in the North are suited for planting short-grain Japonica rice.
The strain is now grown on more than 20,000 rai in Chiang Rai alone, producing about 10,000 tonnes annually to serve rising demand as more Japanese flock to Thailand, said Piyapan Srikoom, a researcher at the Chiang Rai Rice Research Centre.
The Agriculture Department first successfully developed varieties based on assorted Japanese strains in the 1980s.
At that time, the amount of Japanese investments in Thailand was rising quickly thanks to favourable investment policies and low wages.
Research into growing Japanese rice domestically started in 1964 at the rice centre in Phan district in Chiang Rai, but it wasn't until 1987 that the centre was able to develop strains with characteristics similar to sasanishiki and koshihikari, two popular Japanese rice varieties.
Experimental programmes with these strains yielded an average of 700 kilogrammes per rai. They were certified as KhaoYipun DOA1 and DOA2 in 1995.
The strains are non-photoperiod sensitive and grow well during the second season when the climate is cooler.
Their short grain, soft texture and stickiness when cooked are good for making rice sushi, while many Thai long-grain rice varieties lack such properties.
"These strains can be grown in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phayao, but are packed in Chiang Rai either by Thai companies or joint ventures with Japanese investors," said Mr Piyapan.
Jiraporn Rice Mill Co is the largest supplier in the province, with about 10,000 rai of contracted farms in several northern provinces.
"The most difficult part is making farmers pay attention to the cultivation, as Japanese rice requires a punctual schedule," said Sanan Supawa, a mill owner
Normally, 20-day-old rice seedlings need to be transplanted, with a fixed timetable to add fertiliser.
"Sometimes farmers neglect the schedule, but the higher payment for Japanese rice encourages them to change their habits," he said
Farmers are paid 11 baht a kilogramme for Japanese paddy, compared with about eight baht for white rice paddy.
The milled rice is sold to suppliers for export or resale to Japanese restaurants in Thailand, especially chains such as Oishi.
In order to manage production efficiently and maintain rice quality, Jiraporn Rice Mill requests that buyers place purchase orders one year in advance.
"The quality of the grain will decrease if it is kept too long, particularly under the hot and humid conditions of Thailand," Mr Sanan said.
In general, we assure buyers the rice quality will be the same as what is grown in Japan.
He expects the popularity of Japanese food in Thailand and the rising Japanese population in the country will increase demand.
The Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok reported 1,313 Japanese firms as chamber members as of April 2010. It estimates about 50,000 Japanese live in Thailand.
Kasikornbank reports the market for Japanese restaurants was valued at 8 billion baht last year and is expected to reach 10 billion next year, based on 10-15% expansion a year.
There are more than 1,000 Japanese restaurants in Thailand, the fifth-highest number after the US, China, Korea, and Taiwan.
(Source: Bangkok Post, Japanese rice flourishes, Local Japonica strains gain favour, 14/04/2011, Walailak Keeratipipatpong, link)
Rice Growing Vocabulary
rice - "Rice is the seed of the monocot plants Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima. As a cereal grain, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in East and South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the West Indies. It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after maize (corn)" (See Wikipedia , oryza sativa, and rice production in Thailand)
Japonica - Japanese rice, a short-grain variety of rice characterized by a unique stickiness and texture, also called "oryza sativa variety japonica" (See Wikipedia)
strain - a certain kind or variety of animal, insect, plant or bacteria (See Wikipedia)
flourish - grows in large quantities, does well, is successful
base - a place from where an activity can be planned and operated ฐานที่มั่น
production base - a place where a company locates factories and their manufacturing operations in (where the company produces the goods it sells)
climate - the general weather conditions usually found in a particular place สภาพอากาศ
transplant - transplant rice, small rice plants (seedlings) are first grown in special fields (nursery) and after growing a little are taken from this field and replanted in the regular field, this is done to grow more rice in the same area (crop intensification) and also to give the rice a head start over weeds, sometimes done by hand and sometimes by a machine called a rice transplanter (See explanations of rice tranplanting: #1 and #2)
fertiliser - food for plants, chemicals to make plants grow faster, a natural or chemical substance which is spread on the land or given to plants, to make plants grow well ปุ๋ย (See Wikipedia)
fertilisation - applying fertliser to fields to make plants grow better
toil - hard work
pay back - a future reward for some investment or work that you did
the toil pays back handsomely - get big rewards or profit from your hard work
paddy - rice after it has been harvested from the field ข้าวเปลือก (See Wikipedia)
grain - the seed from cereal crops such as rice, wheat, or corn เมล็ดพืช
Chiang Rai Rice Research Centre - Thai government agency that does research on rice growing in Chiang Rai, on Japanese rice strains that take advantage of Chiang Rai's cool climate (See website)
certified - inspected officially and verified that the company follows the rules ผ่านการรับรองคุณภาพ
sensitive - easily influenced, changed or damaged, especially by a physical activity or effect รับอิทธิ-พลภายนอกได้ง่าย
sasanishiki - "The unique feature of this particular kind of Japanese rice is its ability to keep the same taste even when cooling down. This makes it good for sushi, and some sushi restaurants in Japan advertise the use of this rice" (See Wikipedia)
koshihikari - a strain of rice that "has become very popular now in Japan, in part due to its good appearance. It is one of the most highly-grown varieties of rice in the country, and its taste is said to differ per region. Some people think very highly of the Koshihikari harvested in Uonuma area of Niigata Prefecture which is typically the most expensive rice in all of Japan" (See Wikipedia)
photoperiodicity - the reaction of plants or animals to the length of day or night, this can lead to plants growing better certain periods of the year with more light (See Wikipedia)
non-photoperiod sensitive - a plant that is not sensitive to the length of day or night, that does not grow better if days are longer and it gets more sun light
climate - weather
soft - easy to press and change its shape, not firm, hard or rigid อ่อน, นิ่มนวล อ่อนนุ่ม
texture - the quality of something that can be felt by touch เนื้อ
stickiness - the quality of being sticky ความเหนียว
lack - does not have ขาดแคลน
packed - when a product, such as rice, is put in packages after special preparation, for sale in stores
contract - a written or oral (spoken) agreement to do something
X contracted to do Y - X agreed with someone to do activity Y (for money or some benefit)
contract farming - when farmers enter into a contract with a company to produce crops which ensures that they find a buyer at a given price (See Wikipedia)
seedling - a young plant that has grown from a seed
germination - the sprouting and appearance of a seedling or small plant from the seed of a plant (See Wikipedia)
cultivation - growing plants
efficiently - doing tasks successfully without wasting time, energy or resources, done in an effective, organised way อย่างมีประสิทธิภาพ
pay attention - watch something or do something very carefully
punctual - good habit of being on time (not late all the time)
punctual schedule - doing tasks at exactly the time they must be done (not doing them late)
timetable - a schedule, a list of times or dates when tasks must be done
fixed timetable - a schedule or list of times for doing tasks that cannot be changed
humid - hot and wet in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable ที่ร้อนชื้น
maintain - keep in good condition รักษา
maintain rice quality - keep the rice in good condition (if strict rules are not followed condition and quality will become worse)
purchase - buy
purchase order - an official document used by a company to request another company to supply something in return for payment and providing specifications and quantities
place purchase order - make an order, send the purchase order (request) to the supplier company
place purchase orders one year in advance - make your order for goods one year before you need to have it
frontier - 1. the newest and most advanced ideas in some area, 2. a border between one area and another area (Chiang Rai has a much cooler climate like that of Yunnan, China and northern Burma)
grow to maturity - grow to its full size
farm sector - the part of a country's economy that is devoted to farming and the production of crops as well as fish and meat products
reforms - improvements in the way the economy or political system works and functions
essential - important, necessary, much needed
local - in this country (here: Thailand)
gain favour - people start to like them (and use them instead of others)
adhere to - adhere to rules, follow rules strictly, not breaking them in any way (follow rules or a law, do exactly what the rules or law orders you to do)
X suited for Y - X meets the requirements and is good for activity Y
annually - happening every year ทุกๆปีด
demand - the need and desire to buy goods and services by households and businesses
flock - when a large number of people go to a place because it is interesting or pleasant แห่กันไป
assorted - including various types หลากหลาย, ี่ีหลายชนิด
investment - taking your money and putting it into projects to make a profit or earn interest (buying stock shares, bonds, real estate)
wages - the amount of money earned per hour by a worker
domestically - within this country
joint - done together; belonging to or shared between two or more people ความร่วมมือกัน
joint ventures - a company that is owned ande operated by two or more other companies
neglect - to give not enough care or attention to people or things that are your responsibility การละเลย
chains - a group of stores operated by the same company ร้านค้าในเครือ (คนไทยเรียกทับศัพท์ว่า เชน เช่น 7-Eleven, ลูกชิ้นนายฮั่ง เป็นต้น)
assure - to tell something that something is true or will definitely happen ให้ความมั่นใจ, ยืนยัน
popularity - when many people like it
population - all the people who live in a country, city or given area
chamber of commerce - an organization that represents a group of companies and business people doing business in an area (for example, Japanese companies doing business in Thailand)
chamber - short for "chamber of commerce"
estimates - guesses of what the size, value, amount, cost, etc. of something might be การประมาณค่า
expected - believe will happen คาดว่า (จะเกิดขึ้น)
expansion - when something increases in size, number or importance การขยายออก
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