Japanese farmers have been in full force in their rice paddies in the last couple of weeks. As a result, once dry plots of farming land have suddenly been transformed into flooded lakes of emerging greenery.
Rice farmers ride atop specially designed planting machines to embed neat rows of rice seedlings into the mud of their paddies. The machines have large, broadly ribbed wheels designed for water and deep, boggy mud in the flooded rice paddies.
The machines come equipped with various arrangements of rotary planter mechanisms, fertilizer delivery boxes and driver seat positioning, amongst other features and components.
The machines typically vary in size from approximately 3-10 feet in width, with each planting a similarly varied number of seedling rows at a time. The selection of the machinery is made depending on the size of rice paddies to be planted and the capitalization of the farming operations.
Rice seedling stock is germinated from seed in densely packed seedling trays during late Winter. By Spring, the crowded seedlings form a sturdy mat of roots topped with vibrant 4-5 inch high blade leaves.
In preparation for planting, the young rice seedlings are removed from their germination trays as a complete mat and loaded onto the planter delivery systems at the rear of the machines. Additional mats of seedlings are also stacked on racks by the farmers’ side, where they can be easily accessed and later loaded into the planting mechanism when seedling re-fills are required. This saves overly regular returns to the edge of the flooded rice paddy for seedling re-fills.
The rotating mechanism on the rear of the machines takes the individual seedlings from the trays and inserts them into the water. The fragile seedling roots are embedded into the mud a few inches beneath the rice paddy’s water level. Once planted and paddies are fully flooded, only a portion of the plants’ leaves appear above the surface of the water.
The machines are also equipped with fertilizer boxes that hold dry, granular fertilizer. As the planting prongs push seedlings into the mud, a small portion of the fertilizer is also pushed below the roots to provide nutrients that help prompt maximum rice yield. The fertilizer is either gravity fed from the fertilizer boxes, or pushed through anti-static pipes from a central reservoir box via a blower, depending on the machine type.
As follow-up to mechanical planting, workers (or family members) are often on hand to help pedantically hand plant the edges and corners of paddies, or other areas that have been skipped by the machines.
While most rice paddy farmers use modern machinery for rice paddy planting in recent decades, small scale farmers can still often be seen planting entire regions of paddies by hand. A back breaking task carried out individual monotonous seedling, by individual monotonous seedling!
No matter the technique used, Japanese rice farmers take a lot of pride in the crops they grow. Rice paddy planting is arguably one of the busiest and most important periods on the entire Japanese agricultural calendar.