In this episode of the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast, John interviews Dr. Norman Uphoff, who was the director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development from 1990 to 2005, and is currently Professor Emeritus of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University.
In this episode, Dr. Uphoff relates how he learned about the System of Rice Intensification in 1993 when he was sent to Madagascar as part of an initiative led by Cornell University to develop a program to increase rice yields and help rural development. There Dr. Uphoff learned about the System of Rice Intensification, a method of growing rice that was claimed to increase yields dramatically that had been developed by a French Jesuit priest named Father Henri de Laulanié. Dr. Uphoff was skeptical that the full extent of the reported yields was true but thought the method merited further investigation and developed a plan for the Cornell program to run trials.
The System of Rice Intensification focuses on providing plants with oxygen, photosynthesis, and soil biology, involving methods that were not the norm in the growing practices used in rice production, but that consistently increased yields from 50 to 200%. Farmers using this system saw many more tillers, greater root growth, and plants that stayed green longer. The plants intercepted more sun, gave higher yields, and were more resistant to pests and diseases. They didn’t bend over in storms as easily and could withstand water stress and drought conditions. Dr. Uphoff describes how he trialed the method, demonstrating it on the ground in Madagascar and then expanding it to other countries.
Dr. Uphoff describes the practices used in the SRI method for growing rice and then shows how those same methods, renamed to System of Crop Intensification (SCI), can work for other crops. One key characteristic of SRI and SCI is the use of compost instead of commercial fertilizers. Dr. Uphoff describes the situations in which compost shows the same efficacy as commercial fertilizer. This episode is a gem from one of the pioneers who achieved wide promotion of regenerative growing practices in an era when those practices were much less popular than they are today.
Photo mentioned in the episode: (Note from Dr. Uphoff: "The two rice plants in Cuba are the same variety (VN 2081) and the same age (52 days after seeding in nursery). SRI plant on right was transplanted from the nursery at 13 days into SRI growing conditions, while the plant on left was removed from nursery at 52 days for transplanting at usual time in Cuba. 43 tillers vs. 5 tillers; as important are the differences in size and color(!) between the two plants. The size of the SRI roots says to me that the soil into which Luis Romero planted this seedling was really well-endowed with beneficial microorganisms that stimulated this root growth.")
Dr. Norman Uphoff’s published research articles:
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