Rice farming in Asia is changing because of rural outmigration and growing nonfarm opportunities. The consequential increase in labor scarcity has led to a rapid rise in wage rates in all rice-growing countries in Asia. Since rice farming is traditionally labor-intensive, and with labor costs accounting for nearly half of the total cost of production, farmers have been quick to explore the possibility of replacing labor-intensive activities such as land preparation, crop establishment, harvesting, and threshing with appropriate mechanization to lower the cost of production. Small-scale farm mechanization and custom-hiring arrangements with machines are quickly evolving as viable solutions for smallholder rice farmers in the region. To further counter the infeasibility of mechanization for small farmers, several models of virtual land consolidation have started to emerge in different parts of Asia. The “Small Farmers, Large Field” (SFLF) model in Vietnam, which allows small farmers to benefit from economies of scale by pooling their small farms into large fields of 50−500 hectares to lower the per unit cost of using farm machinery, such as combine harvesters, is becoming popular. In four years, the area under the SFLF model skyrocketed in Vietnam from 8 hectares in 2011 to 196,000 hectares in 2015, with an increase in farmers’ profit of USD 110‒180 per hectare.
Similarly, in Thailand, an industrial rice farming scheme introduced by the Suphanburi Rice Millers’ Association, in collaboration with Suphanburi Rice Research Center, has convinced the farmers to grow one rice variety with synchronized planting and harvesting time on around 400 hectares. The idea is to lower the harvesting cost by 20−30% by providing service providers with a bigger contract for custom harvesting.