Illustrative image (Source: VNA)
HCM City (VNA) - Farmers in the Mekong Delta have begun harvesting the year’s third rice crop, but face low yields even as prices have been pushed down by export difficulties.

Nguyen Van Xiem Nho of Phu Duc Commune in Dong Thap Province’s Tam Nong District said his area had grown three rice crops a year for many years, but this year’s yield has been the lowest.

“In the previous autumn-winter rice crop, the yield was 5.5-6 tonnes per hectare, but this year the yield is less than 5 tonnes.”

Bad weather and disease outbreaks have also increased production costs but prices are low, causing farmers losses, he said.

In other delta provinces like Hau Giang and Kien Giang, farmers are worrying about a poor autumn-winter harvest.

Danh Hau, Head of Giong Ke Hamlet in Kien Giang Province’s Hon Dat District, said 1,000ha of winter-spring rice was earlier damaged by drought and saltwater intrusion.

Now farmers face a poor harvest because of diseases, he said.

Many had left the place for HCM City and Binh Duong Province to find jobs, he added.

The price of the grain in the delta has fallen significantly compared to some months ago, according to local farmers.

Nguyen Thi Nguyet, who has harvested two hectares of rice in Dong Thap Province’s Tam Nong District, said: “Traders try to push rice prices down between 4,000 and 4,600 VND. If I sell rice at these prices, I will suffer losses.”

Duong Phuong Thao, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Export and Import Department, said paddy prices have been falling because of large inventories caused by difficulties in exporting.

The delta plans to grow 867,000ha this autumn-winter, and farmers have sowed more than 700,000ha so far, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).

More than 110,000ha, planted early, have been harvested so far.

This year many farmers sowed the autumn-winter crop one month earlier than usual because the flood season was unusually brief.

The annual flooding caused by the rising levels of the Mekong River and its tributaries between August and November brings silt to the rice fields and destroys pests such as mice.

Higher-profit crops
Nguyen Van The, Secretary of the Soc Trang Province Party Committee, said the delta’s farmers have contributed greatly to the country’s food security and rice exports for many years, but the number that has become rich from growing rice is not high.

Increasingly bad weather and saltwater intrusion deep into rivers affect rice cultivation the most, he said.

Besides, rice prices are declining while fruit prices are rising because of increased exports, he said.

Soc Trang farmers who grow green-peel and pink-flesh grapefruit make an average profit of 300 million VND (13,600 USD) per hectare every year, many times higher than from rice.

Similarly, farmers who breed shrimps also make many times more profits.

“Soc Trang does not require its farmers to grow rice at any cost. Farmers should calculate to switch to other crops that are suitable for each place and meet market demand.”

According to Nguyen Van Duong, Chairman of the Dong Thap Province People’s Committee, in restructuring agriculture the province has made rice only one of five key produce.

Other produce like flowers and ornamental trees, mangoes and ducks yield better profits than rice, and so the province is focusing on them.

In areas zoned for rice, the province has reorganised production by bringing together farmers and enterprises to reduce costs and increase profits.

After three years of restructuring agriculture, the delta – the country’s largest rice, fruit and seafood producer – has switched to growing other crops like sesame, corn, soy bean and vegetables on more than 78,000ha of less fertile rice fields, according to MARD.

These crops offer 20-30 percent higher profits.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong said fruit trees and aquaculture had potential for development and could help farmers become rich.

The agriculture sector should focus on developing fruit trees and aquaculture based on global demand and response to climate change, he added.-VNA