|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, March 27, 2000, Chandigarh, India|
Viable farm options in Punjab
By J.S. Kolar
AT the national level, Punjab occupies 1.5 per cent of the geographical area and contributes 9 per cent of the total national agriculture production, producing 21, 9 and 15 per cent of wheat, rice and cotton, respectively. In spite of the huge contribution of the state to the central pool, the profitability of Punjab farmers had gone down considerably. This is due largely to the manifold escalation in the cost of production of crops.
new cropping pattern
Viable farm options in Punjab
AT the national level, Punjab occupies 1.5 per cent of the geographical area and contributes 9 per cent of the total national agriculture production, producing 21, 9 and 15 per cent of wheat, rice and cotton, respectively. In spite of the huge contribution of the state to the central pool, the profitability of Punjab farmers had gone down considerably. This is due largely to the manifold escalation in the cost of production of crops. Fragmentation of land holdings in the state has further added to the misery of the farmers. On small land holding, the utilisation of available farm machinery has also become unviable. The other resources too remain under utilised by marginal/small farmers who constitute the major chunk of the farming community. To enhance profitability of agriculture, some remedial measures are suggested for the benefit of the farmers.
The cropping system of Punjab is at present cereal dominated and that too revolves around rice and wheat crops only. Resultantly, the state has become surplus in foodgrains and there is a serious problem of marketing and storage of foodgrains. Under the present situation, there is an urgent need to diversify the cropping base by introducing alternative crop, particularly to rice. Some areas under rice need to be replaced with crops like maize, groundnut, soyabean and mungbean depending upon the soil type. Some area could also be shifted to sugarmill areas. There is an urgent need to establish agro-based industries in case such crops are to be popularised in the state. In addition to field crops, emphasis on subsidiary professions like vegetables/fruits/flowers cultivation, fish farming, poultry farming, mushroom growing, honey bee etc could further boost agriculture income in the state, if adopted on commercial lines.
The globalisation of the agriculture sector under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has opened new vistas for Punjab farmers. In this context, there is need to diversify area from traditional crops (rice/wheat) to basmati rice, durum wheat and desi cotton on account of their special attributes suitable for export. To boost export, some areas can be put under medicinal, aromatic and spice crops. Punjab cotton is also suitable for manufacture of yarn, fabrics, garments etc. But such material can be produced in the state only if traditional textile mills are strengthened. The value addition to this particular commodity will be highly profitable to the farmers as well as to state as a whole.
Continuous adoption of the rice-wheat cropping system in the state has adversely affected the soil health. The soils of Punjab are known to be poor in organic carbon. To improve the productivity of soils, there is urgent need to properly utilise crop residues. Besides improving soil fertility, crop residues also act as mulches to reduce water loss/modify soil temperature and improve the physical and chemical conditions of the soil. According to one estimate, of the total quantity of 17.7 million tonnes of rice straw about 14.4 million tonnes is burnt annually. All husk of rice is also burnt in factories. Likewise, out of 19.1 million tonnes of wheat straw about 9.2 million tonnes is burnt by farmers and that results in 40.2 million tonnes of carbondioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. The incorporation of crop residue over a long period have positive effect on the nutrient status of the soil. The cereals residue incorporation over 12 years resulted in increased productivity by about 1 tonne/year as demonstrated in a scientific study carried out at PAU, Ludhiana. Long term application of crop residue in rice-wheat and maize-wheat rotations has favourably affected soil properties such as pH, organic carbon, water holding capacity and bulk density. The burning of residue has adverse effects on sulphur availability in soils. The residue incorporation also increases the population of useful aerobic bacteria and fungi. Enzymatic activities too are enhanced in soil as a result of the incorporation of residues of crop plants.
Resorting to green manuring
Green manures offer good alternative to costly chemical fertilisers. But, there is hardly any adoption of green manuring for paddy in Punjab. The scope for its adoption has further declined among farmers in spite of strong recommendations from the Punjab Agricultural University. Moreover, efforts are not being made at present to popularise this practice to boost production of crops while conserving soil fertility. Crops meant for green manuring have been identified by PAU and are given in the package of practices of crops. Such recommendations of PAU must be implemented to restore deteriorating soil health and to minimise the use of costly chemical fertilisers.
Use of water
The early planting of rice have led to excessive depletion of underground water and build up of rice stem borer endangering cultivation of paddy crop in general and basmati in particular. This is a matter of serious concern. In paddy, water is kept standing for much longer duration than the recommended period of two weeks. Late sowing of sunflower during end-February or March not only consumes excessive irrigation water, but delays the sowing of succeeding crops those follow sunflower. With wide row crops like sunflower, maize, cotton, sugarcane etc. are sown flat instead of being raised on ridges/beds which can save irrigation water up to 30 per cent. The use of straw mulches to conserve moisture can prove useful in crops like sunflower,maize and sugarcane. Considering the sharp decline in underground water reserves, particularly in central Punjab, low water budget crops like mungbean, summer ground etc. in place of rice on light textured soils and soyabean and maize on medium textured soils should be cultivated.
To mitigate the ill-effects of excessive and indiscriminate use of pesticides, particularly insecticides and herbicides, stress should be laid to popularise the judicious use of highly toxic chemicals. The excessive use of pesticides have not only polluted our environment, but posed several uncontrollable problems like the development of pesticide resistance in insects, weeds and pathogens, resurgence in pests and appearance of new pests in our crop eco-system. The plant protection expenditure needs to be curtailed to minimise the cost of production. The judicious use of pesticides based on economic threshold values coupled with other non-chemical methods needs to be popularised to mitigate the ill-effects of pesticides and to harvest profitable yield of crops.
Production of hybrid seed
Good quality seed is the basic input which plays an important role not only in increasing production, but also for quality produce which fetches higher prices because of its purity, uniformity, etc. To break yield barriers of crop plants, PAU has given number of hybrids in maize, cotton, sunflower, gobhi, sarson, arhar, napier bajra, muskmelon, tomato, chillies, brinjal etc. and have superiority of 20 per cent to 30 per cent over the traditional varieties. These hybrids should be adopted by farmers. It would be desirable if the farmers themselves take up the production of hybrid seed. PAU has already started imparting necessary training in the production of hybrid seed of different crops and the farmers are required to avail this opportunity and cut down the cost of seed.
Quality of produce
Owing to the globalisation of market, it would be mandatory to bring in the market farm produce in good quality to fetch better prices. Marketing standards have been laid down by the government particularly pertaining to moisture content in crop produce, which must be adhere to. Similarly, cotton must not contain trash content for fetching better price in the market. The processing of honey and bee wax and their sale has opened new vistas for the enterprising bee-keepers in the state. To make such subsidiary profession commercial, it is always desirable to get training in the profession. PAU is well equipped to impart required training in all such subsidiary agricultural traits.
Livestock is an important component of agriculture in the state. Of the total GDP of 41 per cent, dairy alone account for 16 per cent. The fragmented land holdings and low profits from farming here discouraged the use of farm machinery on small sized farms. Thus, there are 45 per cent small and marginal farmers in the state who do not have farm income sufficient to meet the family needs. Therefore, dairy is one of the best subsidiary sources of income for such category of farmers. The regular income from dairy farming can be utilised for running the domestic expenses and thus consumption credit needs will decline. By involving themselves in dairy profession, the farmers can get regular gainful employment throughout the year. The fodder and feed produced on the farm are always cheaper. Additionally, farm yard manure obtained from animal waste can be put to use to improve the health of soil which is deteriorating day-by-day. It can be put to use for power and light by installing gobar gas plant in the villages.
Handling of farm produce
To overcome the mismatch between the production and consumption, post-harvest technology is proving as asset to the producer and a major effort is required to develop and popularise various practices for the processing of agricultural products, including agricultural wastes. Farmers, who are considered to be the producer of raw material required encouragement, training and finance assistance to establish the primary and secondary agro-processing units individually and collectively for generating more employment avenues for the rural youth and increasing their income. Primary agro-processing means cleaning and grading of produce for quality upgradation and value addition. It involves less technical skill and investment for their establishment in rural areas. The PAU provides excellent training facilities about the installation and successful handling of mini rice mill, atta chakies, baby oil expeller, cotton gin (automatic and manual), mini dal mill masala, grinder, penja fruit washing and waxing machine. Small and medium level agro-processing industries may be set for drying and dehydrated products from fruits vegetables, spices etc. The output and quality of processed products obtained through these set ups could improve further if grains are prepared/conditioned well before milling using appropriate cleaning, grading, drying storage and dehusking technology. Facilities such as weighing, packing, sealing, transportation etc. enhance the hygiene and economic returns of the processed products.
Agro-based food industries such as snack foot-puffed cereal, flaked cereal, roasted and popped cereals, fruit, juice and pulp, pickles and chutneys, jams and jellies, papad, tinned vegetable and fruits, milk-products like butter, ghee, paneer, khoa, etc. also promote value addition and diversification. The byproducts from these industries can be converted into cattle feed or utilised for energy generation through thermal conversion. For all this, training facilities are available at Punjab Agricultural University.
Need for new cropping pattern
The rice-wheat rotation in the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains comprising Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal is predominant. It accounts for 40 per cent of the production.
In Punjab, the area under both rice and wheat has gone up in the post-green revolution period. Rice-wheat rotation is not new to the state, it is some 80 years old. In Amritsar and Ferozepur districts it has remained a general cropping pattern for decades. However, the tremendous increase in area under cultivation of these crops in the recent past is alarming.
After introduction of the high-yielding dwarf varieties of wheat and rice in the early sixties the rotation assumed importance as it proved to be the most productive and profitable cropping system. About 33 lakh hectare area in the state is covered by wheat. Rice occupies 26 lakh hectares. Rice and wheat are grown over 100 lakh hectares in the country.
Rice is the most paying crop in the kharif season. The area under its cultivation therefore multiplied fast. Rice was planted on 11.83 lakh hectares in 1980-81. By 1990-91 it almost doubled. There was a steady increase every year after that. From 20.69 lakh hectares in 1991-92, the area under paddy cultivation swelled to 20.72 lakh hectares in 1992-93 and 22.65 lakh hectares in 1994-95. It jumped to 25.19 lakh hectares in 1998-99 ending up at 26 lakh hectares last year.
Similarly the area under wheat cultivation went up from 14 lakh hectares in 1960-61 to more than 33 lakh hectares today.
Both crops are exhaustive. It was apprehended that the crop system might seriously affect over the years the soil productivity by overmining the native nutrient reserve.
The same happened. Response to fertiliser application in the zone has come down from 14.65 kg in 1970-75 to 9.3 kg of grains per kg of fertiliser in 1992-93.
Soil scientists are worried over loss of fertility, falling water table and environment problems arising from the rotation. It is estimated that rice and wheat crops together take up 663 kg of nutrients to yield 88 quintals per hectare as against 400 kg of nutrients (NPK) actually applied. Obviously, the additional 260 kg are drawn from the native source annually. Macro-level analysis done at the level of states for the period 1980-81 to 1990-91 by the Directorate of Cropping Systems Research suggest that grain (kg) harvested per kg of fertiliser applied had uniformly declined in all the states. Punjab, however, is an exception.
In Punjab whereas the official statistics point towards the trends of the increased productivity individual farmers complain of a severe decline in yields.
The official district-level analysis shows that the trend of factor productivity varied with the districts. Most of the districts have shown declining trends of varied degrees, others showing no change and a few showing higher productivity. The total factor productivity of wheat and rice had fallen in Ferozepur and Ropar districts. Sangrur and Faridkot districts had shown higher total productivity. Ludhiana, Bathinda and Jalandhar districts had shown that rice productivity had gone up. Patiala, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur districts are credited with increased wheat productivity.
In Haryana Sonepat, Jind and Hisar districts registered declined total productivity. In Sirsa, Karnal and Kurukshetra rice productivity decreased. In Rohtak and Faridabad districts wheat productivity came down.
In Uttar Pradesh 40 districts showed total factor productivity to decline mainly as a sequel to the fall in the yields of rice. In Bihar all districts except Gopal Ganj showed a perceptible decrease in rice productivity.
According to a study made by the former Deputy Director-General of ICAR and National Professor of the Union Governments Directorate of Rice Research, Dr E A Siddiq, the productivity decline is attributed to total available nutrient in the soil. Depletion of organic matter content to a level lower than the minimum required level of 2 per cent is considered to be the major factor for the declining factor productivity.
Dr Siddiq says: We have not as yet understood precisely the factors contributing to the decline. Experimental findings do show that building organic matter content either by external application of organic manure on regular basis or introducing a legume crop in the rotation does help to reverse the declining trend.
Hardly any serious effort has been made to overcome the problem. There is an acute shortage of farmyard manure. Green manuring has received a setback after the 1970s. There are no Jantar and Dhaincha seeds available to the growers. Relay cropping one after the other hardly leaves any scope for raising a green manure or the desired legume crop.
Recently Excel Industries have come to the rescue of growers. It has installed plants in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Calcutta and Vijaywada to convert garbage into Celrich which is sold in packed bags. One such plant is under consideration in Jalandhar. The limited supply of Celrich to Punjab is made from the Delhi plant which is being expanded.
The experiments made at various places have revealed that the application of Celrich has contributed to the productivity of potatoes, chillies, wheat and rice. Its use in rise nurseries has produced healthy seedlings to give higher yield. It has also been found useful in kitchen gardening, lawns and vegetable cultivation.
Celrich has proved itself as a unique bio-organic soil enricher through microbial conversion process. It contains billions of biologically active and agronomically useful microbes including Azotobacter, Actinomycetes, Phosphate solubilizers, root nodule bacteria, etc.
The rice wheat rotation is vital for sustained food security. It contributes about 70 per cent to Indias foodgrain production. The country cannot afford the declining trend to continue unchecked.
The Punjab Young Farmers Association rightly chose the theme declining productivity in rice and wheat of its Kisan Mela held at Rakhra on March 25. The aim was to identify precisely the factors for the declining productivity trends and to come out with corrective measures for different situations.
There seems to be no hope for reversal of the trend unless researchers and scientists find suitable alternatives to the rotation which should be equally remunerative.