AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE Monday, April 17, 2000, Chandigarh, India
 
Are farmers subsidising govt?
By Baljit Singh
The recent hike in the price of wheat sold to flour mills to Rs 900 per quintal and grudging increase in the support price of wheat from Rs 550 to Rs 575 per quintal (the apex farm body the Agricultural Cost and Prices Commission was actually opposed to any increase for two years) has made the yawning gap between the agricultural support price and the price the eventual consumer pays too glaring to be ignored.

Biogas : an alternative fuel
by Sarbjit Singh & Kashmir Jatinder Singh
WITH the increasing population, the per year energy demand of India by the year 2000 A.D. will be about 400 million tonnes of coal, 100 million tonnes of petroleum and 1,00,000 mega watts of electricity. This energy scenario poses a great challenge to our technical and managerial ability as well as to our environment which is already under stress. The conventional sources of energy being limited, it is necessary to explore the possibility of utilising the infinitely available non-conventional energy sources, particularly biogas

Poultry farming in crisis
By Bhagwan Dass
POULTRY farming in Punjab has run into crisis. It has become unremunerative. Poultry farmers have suffered huge losses in the recent past. Once a trumpet-call by the government to tell growers to increase their returns by taking to poultry farming, the industry named as subsidiary to agriculture, had a dismal record in the past decade (1990-2000).

New irrigation schemes for better yield
By K.S. Rana
T
HE increase in foodgrain production from 51 million tons to 200 million tons during post-Independence period has been remarkable. This has happened without substantial increase in net sown area, which remained almost 140 million hectares. Expansion of irrigation in plan era has played an important role to increase gross sown area as well as the crop yield.


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Are farmers subsidising govt?
By Baljit Singh

The recent hike in the price of wheat sold to flour mills to Rs 900 per quintal and grudging increase in the support price of wheat from Rs 550 to Rs 575 per quintal (the apex farm body the Agricultural Cost and Prices Commission was actually opposed to any increase for two years) has made the yawning gap between the agricultural support price and the price the eventual consumer pays too glaring to be ignored.

In layman language what the gap means is that the farmer who plants, tends and harvests wheat through an entire agricultural season, risks and all, is paid Rs 575 inclusive of all costs while the middleman, in this case the government itself, pockets the difference of Rs 325 essentially for acting as a go-between the farmer and the flour mill owner or eventual consumer.

Does this sound too simplistic? After all the government is transporting the grain, often over long distances, storing it for long periods of time, grading and sorting it not to mention selling it at less than the purchase price to those below the poverty line. Yet even if all these arguments other than the one about subsidising the poor (farmers, poor themselves, are not intended to subsidise anyone, least of all the government) are conceded, it does not detract from the fact that the mark up is far too high, and growing larger. That the price of ‘processing’ is biting into both farmers profits and the price the consumer has to pay defeating the very purpose of both the agricultural support price system and the PDS.

It is an impression that is validated by the picture on the ground. For at the point of purchase itself there is a virtual army of interventionists, everybody from inspectors to market committees to loaders, who both nibble away at the price the farmer is paid and add to the government’s purchase cost. The role of this army of officials becomes more dubious still in the process of storage where, instead of sorting and grading, the grain is frequently degraded because of lack of facilities and official apathy. Add to this theft, rodent and weather damage and the carrying price soars. According to expert estimates losses in transport and storage are around 18 per cent in India instead of the optimal limit of around 3 per cent achieved in the West.

Next transportation. Unlike grain prices which are fixed by the Government, transportation rates are market driven and have been rising faster than inflation. This is not because of excessive profit taking with the transport industry itself is in recession, and only part of the increase can be blamed on soaring fuel costs. The remainder is because of poor infrastructure, multiple taxation and corruption which translate into faster vehicle degradation and more time spent in transit.

Finally the sale point. Whether the sale is to the miller or the PDS there is the inevitable layer of bureaucrats to add to costs. While the PDS is efficient in a handful of southern states, in the rest, including the poorest, even the fixed quota is seldom lifted. This is only partly due to official apathy, for PDS grain is by now so greatly degraded that even the poor prefer to buy from the market. This mismatch is made glaringly obvious in government storage bins overflowing with grain while food-poor, deficit states forego much of their quota.

But rather than face up to this reality the intervention schemes continue to cook their sums unconcerned while consumers pay more and farmers accept less to underwrite a bureaucracy conceived for their benefit.

A glance at other farm-related schemes only buttresses this pattern. Thus farmers pay more for expensive home-produced urea while the subsidy intended for them is cornered by domestic urea manufacturers. Farmers actually receive no subsidy on the current international price of $ 90 per tonne for urea (Rs 4500 per tonne landed cost against a market rate of around Rs 5400 per quintal) while the industry gets as much as Rs 17,000 per tone.

For all the talk of power subsidy farmers in most states pay fixed monthly rates plus user rates on power that is seldom at hand, and then in off peak hours (late at night) when they must opt for sub-optimal flood irrigation. This in order to ‘subsidise’ urban domestic consumers.

The farm sector is also saddled with a burgeoning cooperative and market system that, whatever its original intention, now feeds of both farm surpluses and government largess. Indeed, like the Soviet pattern it was loosely patterned on the rural support system has grown so bloated that those who it was intended to benefit have ended up bearing the burden for it. But their propensity to be squeezed is limited and should the system continue unchecked it must, inevitably, collapse. Which might even seems like a good thing — after all the farmer and miller are better off bypassing the government and pocketing the huge difference — but isn’t.

For lack of a support structure has in practice meant huge swings in output and prices and has been the single largest factor behind the failure of government plans to move farmers away from the ecologically destructive wheat-rice cycle. And the collapse of the grain support structure would pull the plug on Indian agriculture itself, driving farmers, the poor and even the connected bureaucracy to destitution. It is a threat that a nation with 70 per cent of its population in villages can ignore only at its own peril.
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Biogas : an alternative fuel
by Sarbjit Singh & Kashmir Jatinder Singh

WITH the increasing population, the per year energy demand of India by the year 2000 A.D. will be about 400 million tonnes of coal, 100 million tonnes of petroleum and 1,00,000 mega watts of electricity. This energy scenario poses a great challenge to our technical and managerial ability as well as to our environment which is already under stress. The conventional sources of energy being limited, it is necessary to explore the possibility of utilising the infinitely available non-conventional energy sources, particularly biogas, which can be easily obtained by anaerobic digestion of organic wastes like cattle dung and various other animal excreta.

Biogas:
Biogas being a mixture of various gases contains 50-60 per cent of Methane, 30-40 per cent of Carbondioxide, 1-5 per cent of Hydrogen, 1 per cent of Nitrogen, 0.1 per cent of Hydrogen Sulphide, 0.1 per cent of Oxygen and 0.1 per cent of Water vapours. While having a calorific value of 4713-5735 k cal/m3 biogas can replace 12.30kg of cow dung cakes, 3.50 kg of wood, 0.62 litre of kerosene oil, 0.52 litre of diesel, 0.43 kg of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and 4.70 kilo watt of electricity.

The comparison regarding number of times, the excreta of different animals can produce more biogas than that produced by cow dung is shown in the following table.

S. No. Material No. of times
1 Cow/Buffalo dung 1 (base)
2 Horse dung 2.58
3 Sheep dropping 2.58
4 Camel dung 2.83
5 Goat droppings 3.08
6 Piggery waste 3.92
7 Poultry droppings 6.17

Biogas production process
Biogas production process involves digestion of organic matter with the help of bacterial action in anaerobic conditions i.e. in the absence of air. This digestion is completed through two phases of decomposition viz. liquification and gasification. During liquification stage majority for the bacteria involved are capable of rapid reproduction, less sensitive to environmental changes as compared to the bacteria responsible for gasification.

The gasification organisms are also a mixed culture of bacteria and are strictly anaerobic. They have a low rate of reproduction and are extremely sensitive to temperature. acidic and alkaline conditions as well as to mineral concentration. These bacteria need carbondioxide for conversion of volatile acids into methane and the job is accomplished with the help of enzymes secreted by them: Once the anaerobic process is set in, it continues provided the cow dung is fed at fixed regular intervals. After production of biogas, the remaining material called ‘slurry’ containing about 2.10 per cent of nitrogen, 0.046 per cent of phosphorus and 2.20 per cent of potassium, is used as manure for crop production.

Conditions for efficient gas production
The following are the technical conditions for developing and maintaining an efficient biogas production process:-

1. Water Content: For normal metabolic and excretion processes of micro-organisms responsible for anaerobic digestion, about 90 per cent of total weight of organic material fed should be water. Too low concentration of water leads to accumulation of acetic acid thereby inhibiting the fermentation process and hence gas production.

2. Air tightness: The breakdown of organic material in the presence of air produces much of carbondioxide and negligible amount of methane gas whereas in the absence of air it is the opposite. Hence air tightness is necessary for the digestion chamber.

3. Necessary nutrients: The source of fermentation, itself, should have plenty of nutrients like carbon, nitrogen and inorganic salts for ensuring normal growth and metabolic activities of micro-organisms carrying out the job. Also a specific ration varying from 20:1 to 25:1 must be maintained between carbon and nitrogen for maintaining a congenial environment.

4. pH Balance: pH values is measure of acidic alkaline character of material. 7 is neutral. A pH value between 7 and 8.5 is best for fermentation and normal gas production.

5. Ammonia concentration : It is a very important parameter as at higher concentration it is toxic and at low concentration it becomes an inhibiting factor for proper growth of micro-organisms. A 1000 to 3000 mg/litre concentration of ammoniacal nitrogen is suitable for normal functioning of micro-organisms concerned.

6. Temperature: There are three ranges viz. psychrophilic i.e. below 200C, mesophilic i.e. 20-450C and thermophilic i.e. above 450C for methane forming fermentation process. Effective and efficient anaerobic fermentation is carried out on both thermophilic and mesophilic temperature but the latter is found to be best suited to Indian environmental conditions.

Biogas Plant
The whole set-up in which anaerobic fermentation of cellulose containing organic material takes place. producing biogas which is collected in a gas holder and sent through the pipeline for utilisation under suitable pressure is called the biogas plant. Three major components of a biogas plant are mixing tank, digester and gas holder. Mixing tank is a simple pit-like concrete structure in which cow dung is mixed with water in ratio of 1:1 so that it is easily pumped into the digestion chamber where the decomposition of the same takes place thereby producing gas after anaerobic digestion. The gas thus produced moves into the gas holder with its own pressure, from where it can taken to the site of its use through the valve controlled outlet pipe. Digestion being the major component consumes about 50 per cent of the budget required for biogas plant followed by gas holder taking 40 per cent and accessories like inlet pipes, outlet pipes and gas pipes etc consuming just about 10 per cent. Three popular models of biogas plant are the K.V.I.C., Janta and Deenbandhu model. Depending upon the availability of organic material and the funds a particular model of suitable capacity can be opted.

— The authors are Assistant Professor and Assistant Agricultural Engineer, respectively in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
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Poultry farming in crisis
By Bhagwan Dass

POULTRY farming in Punjab has run into crisis. It has become unremunerative. Poultry farmers have suffered huge losses in the recent past.

Once a trumpet-call by the government to tell growers to increase their returns by taking to poultry farming, the industry named as subsidiary to agriculture, had a dismal record in the past decade (1990-2000).

Four out of the five poultry farms run by the Punjab Government have closed down. The fifth at Patiala is also advancing to meet the same fate. The government has planned to give them on lease to private parties.

Out of 7423 poultry farms in 1988 only a few hundred are in operation. The banks have large outstandings against them. These are mounting every year in the absence of repayments. Punjab Poultry Farmers’ Association chief Gurmeet Singh Mukandpur has urged the state government to take appropriate steps through the central government for stopping coercive action by financing institutions to recover their loans from the poultry farmers lest they also follow the land-tiller way of resorting to suicides.

Poultry farming got a boost in the 1960s during the regime of late Partap Singh Kairon, Chief Minister. It was a boom period until the middle of 1980s.

Nearly, all concessions given to the industry by Mr Kairon stand withdrawn. No longer rice bran from the rice mills is issued to the growers at a concessional price for making poultry feed. The facility of giving Shira by sugar mills at the controlled price has also been stopped.

This has made the feed expensive for poultry. Quality feed which cost the breeders Rs 125 per quintal in 1982 now costs over Rs 600 a quintal.

Not only that chicks were given to the poultry farms on subsidy, they have to buy them now from the open market. Hatcheries in the private sector are charging as high as Rs 17 per chick.

The situation is desperate. Egg prices have crashed. Eggs are selling from Rs 12 to Rs 15 per dozen. It does not even cover the cost of production.

Nafed had started buying eggs from the poultry farmers in 1977-78 at the instance of the central government. That provided a great relief to the poultry owners. The farmers had started feeling that Nafed’s intervention in the market enabled them to get better prices for their eggs and saved them from exploitation of traders. Much benefit of the scheme was, however, taken by Andhra farmers.

There is no support price by the government. The market intervention scheme through Nafed has also been abolished. The farmers are left at the mercy of trade which fixes the price of eggs that is economical to them.

A recent survey made by the Punjab Young Farmers’ Association reveals that an uneconomical price of eggs disproportionate to the cost of production and lack of interest by the government in promoting the industry are chiefly responsible for the collapse of poultry farming in the state.

Both PYFA chief Jagdeep Singh Cheema and PFA President Mukandpur have suggested to the state government for reviving the facilities of issuing rice bran and shira to poultry farmers at concessional rates and provide them cold chain facilities for marketing products and incubation facility for making available chicks of standard and tested breeds.

They have also demanded issuance of food grains rotting in the godowns at low prices to the poultry farmers for using in feed.

The government should exempt the poultry farmers from income tax. It should be levied only on traders, wholesalers and retailers, who deal in the sale and purchase of eggs and broilers.

The insurance premium being charged by the companies at the rate of Rs 4 per bird is too high. It should be cut to Re 1 per bird.

The banks should allow a gestation period of at least one year for repayment of instalments of the poultry loans.

PAU should also not lay stress on the farmers to start poultry breeding to augment their returns unless it starts yielding income. Hundreds of youngmen are depressed because they have incurred huge debts.

Experts said unlike the advances made in wheat and rice, Punjab had not made much headway in poultry farming the highest per capita consumption of eggs (125 as against the all-India average of 35) in the state notwithstanding. There is clearly an urgent need for government help to make poultry farming paying. Advancements in the poultry farming would be highly beneficial to soils. The high value of the poultry manure is well recognised. Forty birds produce one ton of deep litter in a year. That is a complete manure supply for one acre of land under rice-wheat cropping system in the state.
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New irrigation schemes for better yield
By K.S. Rana

THE increase in foodgrain production from 51 million tons to 200 million tons during post-Independence period has been remarkable. This has happened without substantial increase in net sown area, which remained almost 140 million hectares. Expansion of irrigation in plan era has played an important role to increase gross sown area as well as the crop yield.

Although dependence upon agriculture as a source of livelihood has come down to 60 per cent and such being a global phenomenon may drop further over the years, yet availability of enough food to ever growing population remains a matter of concern. It should be possible to meet the future food demand by maximising production through optimum use of resources and technology. As of now, rice and wheat have remained main beneficiaries of irrigation with yield average of 2.6 tons and 2.4 tons per hectare which is less than world’s average yield of 3.56 tons and 2.5 tons, respectively. Both crops have potential to achieve further increase in yield though world’s highest yield of 8.8 tons rice per hectare in Australia and 8 tons wheat in the Netherlands may remain a distant dream in view of different agro-climatic conditions and geographical positioning of the Indian subcontinent.

The irrigated area in the country has undoubtedly shown appreciable increase in crop yield and further development of irrigation may continue through viable projects to achieve the ultimate potential. Incidents of waterlogging and salinity have affected the land and its productivity in some of the commands. The problem has been studied by the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal and corrective measures evolved. Irrigation as a facility to farmers is never intended to produce such side effects and the malady is generic to excess water drawl and defective water management mostly by water users and to some extent by water managers. Efficient management of irrigation systems without compromising procedures and techniques has to be given an overriding priority in future. It is desirable to improve the country level irrigation intensity from the present 133 per cent to 145 per cent and even more in the next five years for which concerted extension programmes may have to be drawn by Agriculture and Irrigation Departments.

Pricing of water on volumetric basis for users to pay without any element of subsidy along with betterment levy for development of irrigation facility, can effectively convey the scarcity value of the resource and also inculcate among them a sense of ownership for the project. Conservation of water is yet to become a natural habit even among the elite. Misuse of water should monetarily pinch the user a little to make him extra cautious lest he continues to treat it a free gift of nature.

The surface water and groundwater are to be treated as a single entity for the purpose of irrigation and conjunctively used to supplement each other for remedying quantity and quality related deficiencies. Computer models simulating problematic conditions in irrigated commands are useful tools for scientific operational decisions. A technological matrix for each situation to prevent or to correct the problem of waterlogging and salinity by operating one source or both at a time and to decide the mix of the two, should be known to the water managers as well as the farmers instead of adopting an exotic model evolved as part of the broad strategy.

The entire sown area of the country, particularly in semi-arid, arid and hilly areas, may not be fortunate enough to receive canal irrigation or groundwater supplies. Water harvesting through local ingenuity affords some hope for the farmers in such places where conventional irrigation possibilities are remote.
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