AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE Monday, July 29, 2002, Chandigarh, India

Monsoon failure: time for action and introspection

Short-term crops hold out hope

HARYANA: Conserve moisture

PUNJAB: Pulses, maize and fodder

HIMACHAL: Rain-fed state suffers most

Good rain or poor, water table to be casualty
Peeyush Agnihotri

hen monsoon turns errant, it turns the (water) tables on farmers. And definitely monsoon is under the table this year. 

Looking for solutions elsewhere
G.S. Dhillon
ears have been expressed by experts that if an area experiences unchecked water table decline over a long period, the area is bound to experience “hydrological-cum-hydrochemical imbalance” resulting in the collapse of the agricultural infrastructure.

Farm operations for August
It's nitrogen time for maizeTop



Monsoon failure: time for action and introspection
Short-term crops hold out hope


Conserve moisture
All is not lost for the drought-hit farmers of Haryana. Having lost paddy and early-sown bajra crops due to drought, they can still hope for sowing short-duration hybrid bajra, toria and forage crops like sorghum. In addition, farmers can also sow moong and urad.

According to reports, southwestern Haryana is the worst affected because there are no sources of irrigation in the area and agriculture is completely dependent on rains.

Dr Bhim Singh Dahiya, Director of Research, Haryana Agricultural University, says that if this area receives adequate rainfall by the first week of August farmers should go in for moong, urad and sorghum. These crops can safely be sown if there is rain by August 10. Besides, those farmers who have lost their early-sown bajra crops can opt for HHB67, HHB68 and HHB94 short-duration bajra varieties. Guar also offers a good alternative to the drought-hit farmers. However, if rains elude the area even in August, then farmers can go in for toria, mustard and gram.

But, Dr Dahiya says that the key to success lies in conservation of soil moisture through scientific techniques. Under the present conditions farmers can still hope to save standing crops partially by ensuring that there is no further seeding and transplantation of paddy. Well-established crops like paddy, sugarcane and cotton should be irrigated lightly in the evenings. Plantations can be thinned to save water loss due to transpiration.

The use of nitrogenous fertilisers must be avoided unless there is adequate rain or ample irrigation is possible. In cotton lower leaves can be safely nipped to save moisture. Likewise, extensive de-weeding should help save moisture for the crop.

Selection of varieties of alternative crops is another key factor in drought management. Farmers should opt for water-efficient and salt-tolerant varieties. Some of these varieties are: Guar-HG365, Moong-Asha, Maize-HMH1 and HMH2 and Sorghum-HC171. For areas less affected by drought certain vegetable varieties hold promise. These are: Okra-Varsha Uphar, Tomato-Hisar Lalit and Hisar Arun, and chillies-HC28. Raman Mohan


Pulses, maize and fodder
The prevailing drought-like conditions have caused significant damage to paddy. While officials and scientists are yet to assess the exact damage, they believe farmers need to look for alternative short-duration crops to minimise the losses incurred.

Scientists at the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, have recommended planting of maize in southwest and central Punjab areas that are not very low lying. Bajra, high-yield varieties of pulses like moong-688 and broad-leaf fodder crops may also be grown now, suggest experts. Basmati, which is normally transplanted in mid-July, may also be transplanted if sufficient irrigation can be managed.

Dr G.S. Nanda, Director of Research, PAU, says that fields where paddy has been damaged beyond salvation need to be quickly prepared for crops that yield within 60 to 80 days. The fields in which paddy is not completely damaged and there are chances of revival, the farmers should wait for another 10 days or so as monsoons may arrive by that time.

Dr J. S. Kolar, Director, Extension Education, also suggests that pulses, maize and fodder crops may be grown at this time. Farmers who are still hopeful of paddy revival may grow toria by August-end.

According to Dr Sukhdev Singh Hundal, Professor of agrometeorology in the PAU, only the eastern parts of Punjab have been getting isolated showers. In case there are changes in the upper atmosphere in this week, there are chances of good shower in the whole of Punjab within the next 10 days. Under such an uncertain situation, fodder crops and pulses are the only options left, as these require less irrigation. Since basmati requires ponded water, it may not be a good choice. Deepkamal Kaur


Rain-fed state suffers most
Unlike the plains, the impact of deficient rain is much more in the hills as almost 80 per cent of the cultivated area is rain fed. The loss on account of damage to agricultural and fruit crops has been estimated as Rs 450 crore.

Most areas of the state received pre-monsoon showers towards the third week of June as usual. However, the monsoon never really arrived. The worst hit districts have been Shimla, Sirmaur and Kulu with a 65 per cent deficient rain, followed by Kangra and Solan, where precipitation has been less than half of the normal. The tribal areas of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti and certain belts in lower hills have had virtually no rain.

Crops over 1.43 lakh hectare have suffered 50 to 70 per cent damage, whereas in 2.89 lakh hectare the damage ranges from 30 to 50 per cent. The total loss has been estimated at Rs 360 crore.

Mr J.C. Rana, Director of Horticulture, says that in case the region receives adequate rains over the next 7 days, the damage could be contained. The department suggests alternative crops for affected areas. In case the monsoon arrives by the first week of August, the area left unsown could be planted with mash and moong. If the rains are further delayed, farmers in lower hills could go for short-duration variety of peas like arkel and toria. If the monsoon fails then there is no option except growing fodder.

Horticultural crops like apple, citrus varieties and stone fruit have also been affected and loss on this account has been estimated at Rs 80 crore. Apple has been the worst hit. The loss is more qualitative than quantitative. While the production is likely to come down by only 20 to 25 per cent, the monetary loss will be much more. The total fruit output this season will come down from 4.16 lakh tonne to 3.60 lakh tonne. Rakesh LohumiTop



Good rain or poor, water table to be casualty
Peeyush Agnihotri

Source: The Drought of 1987, Response and Management, Volume I (1989), Central Ministry of Agriculture.
Note: Scientists feel that by the time monsoon 2002 ends it might leave 70 per cent of the area affected, which can be equated with the drought of 1918. It is projected to be the worst post-Independence drought year.

When monsoon turns errant, it turns the (water) tables on farmers. And definitely monsoon is under the table this year. For hydrogeologists and farmers, a ‘soon’ monsoon is always a cause of celebration, though they have different reasons to rejoice.

While for the farmers an early and good monsoon is a harbinger of a bumper harvest, for hydrogeologists it means the recharge of aquifers—the underground water reservoirs. Tubewells and wells are dug until they reach the top layer of the aquifer, the water table. When excessive water is pumped out from an aquifer or when there is a long dry spell, like it seems to be the case this year, the water table sinks lower. During the rainy season, water flowing into recharge areas (land covered with topsoil and trees) refills the aquifer.

Grim scenario

Punjab, a state whose name is synonymous with water, literally, is a state of paradox. Barring south-western parts of the state, where the water table is on the rise, there are signs of receding water table in areas under intensive cultivation elsewhere in the state. In adjoining Haryana, the situation is no better.

Estimates by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) are that the reservoir of underground water will dry up entirely by 2025 in as many as 15 states in India if the present level of exploitation and misuse of underground water continues. By 2050, when more than 50 per cent of the Indian population is expected to shift to the cities, fresh drinking water is expected to get very scarce.

Perhaps this year of a truant monsoon is a couple of steps in that direction. Year after year when the country gets good rainfall and the aquifers get recharged, content farmers and hydrogeologists let the issue of depleting water table rest. This year the latter category, if not the former, is pointing the finger at the real culprit—the rising number of tubewells.

The number of shallow tubewells that pockmark the Punjab topography increased from 60,000 in 1966 to nearly one million in 1999. The rate of growth is nearly the same in Haryana. The tubewells grew from a mere 25,000 in 1966 to nearly 6 lakh in 2000 in this state.

Rare failure

It was as if the rain gods had planned the monsoon debacle of 2002 in advance, if Dr Yogendra, Principal Scientist, Central Soil and Water Conservation Institute, is to be believed.

Irrigating or sucking dry?
Irrigating or sucking dry? — Photo Pradeep Tewari

“Last two years witnessed an early withdrawal of monsoon. It was on August 15 last year as against the normal withdrawal in the third week of September. Add to it the late onset of monsoon and you have a plundered groundwater reservoir on hands,” he says. The scientist says that this year falls in the “very rare” category as a continuous dry spell of 12 days in July has a probability occurrence of just 15 per cent, statistically speaking.

Hydrogeologists and scientists feel that even if the rainfall for the rest of the season remains normal, the water table will not be so.

“The water table is at its lowest just before the onset of monsoon. If the monsoon gets delayed the quantum of rainfall may be the same but the rate of seepage is never the same. Recharge is, thus, decreased. When the moisture content in the unsaturated zone exceeds the field capacity only then recharge takes place. Every year the water table normally rises by a half to one metre. This year it may just be 15 per cent of that,” says Dr K.P. Singh, a former Joint Director of the Punjab Council for Science and Technology. Worse, he fears that this might even affect the drinkable zone in SW Punjab. “In SW Punjab, fresh water lenses float over the saline aquifer zone. With a delayed monsoon, the saline groundwater may ooze, thereby degrading the quality of potable groundwater,” Singh adds.

What now?

“Some real fire-fighting measures need to be adopted,” urges Dr S.S. Grewal, Director, Zonal Research Station, Bullowal. “We have received a grant of Rs 12 lakh and we are busy drilling a recharge well in Takarala, Balachaur block, just to study the possibility of recharging the groundwater through rainwater. The Kandi area of Punjab receives nearly 1200 mm rainfall in a year, out of which 80 per cent is during the monsoon. Out of this 80 per cent, only 45 per cent is retained, with the rest going as runoff. It is this amount that we would like to concentrate on. If this experiment is a success, we might have a path-breaking technology on hands,” Grewal says.

The bureaucracy needs do its bit too—like it did in Andhra Pradesh. The AP Water, Land and Tree Act, that came into force from June 1 this year, is meant to check over-exploitation of groundwater. The Act envisages that a nodal authority will control groundwater usage and all water bodies would be registered with the authorities. Under the Act, boring of wells close to drinking water sources would be curbed. Rainwater harvesting has been made compulsory for larger buildings in Andhra Pradesh.

Groundwater is a non-replenishable resource and is exhaustible if exploited more than the recharge. Artificial recharge is the way out, but only if done systematically and with full knowledge of the topography, keeping in the mind the most minute details like the gradient.

“Artificial recharge can solve the problem if taken up at a wider scale,” says a CGWB hydrogeologist. “In Punjab the areas are alluvial and the groundwater table does not rise immediately after the monsoons. The problem is more intense in Haryana where crop wilting has already started in Bhiwani and districts adjoining Rajasthan. This area is rainfed and entirely dependant on tubewell irrigation before monsoons.”

Unmindful of this entire hullabaloo, the Punjab Government’s official Website screams that Punjab has the highest number of tubewells in India. Is it really an achievement? Food for thought!

Looking for solutions elsewhere
G.S. Dhillon

Fears have been expressed by experts that if an area experiences unchecked water table decline over a long period, the area is bound to experience “hydrological-cum-hydrochemical imbalance” resulting in the collapse of the agricultural infrastructure.

It has been known for a while that nearly two-thirds of Punjab has been experiencing water table decline since l975.

The question arises as to what steps should be undertaken by the Punjab Government. Among varied suggestions, it may be pertinent to take a look at parallels available in other countries.

US experience

In the USA, groundwater decline has been reported for 11 states, covering over 140 1akh acres of irrigated land. Farmers in the water table decline areas took to improved irrigation technologies having efficiency as high as 92 per cent. Earlier, the efficiency was around 40 to 60 per cent.

Farmers in Central Arizona adopted drip irrigation even for cotton. This mode of irrigation has been found beneficial for areas where energy costs are high, soils being of medium to coarse texture and the climate hot and dry, where high water demand is experienced. In addition to the drip the modes were LEPA (low energy precision application) and surge flow.

The most profitable systems for farmers of the water table decline areas of Arizona and California emerged to be i) the modified slope furrow level basin technique and ii) the surge flow system.

Legislative controls

The local governmental agencies in six US states have passed laws severely restricting irrigation development, though the states of Kansas and California are yet to pass such controls.

The Ground Water Management Act of 1980, passed by Arizona, requires that irrigation efficiencies be improved progressively so that by 2025, the amount of water pumped out is equal to the ground water recharge in the critical areas to maintain the water table.

The Act also provides for ‘phased reduction’ in the groundwater for irrigation, to be accomplished by the mandatory retirement of land from irrigated agriculture. The Act has powers to limit tubewells and the extent of pumping within the designated areas, so that an acceptable level of groundwater use for irrigation can be achieved.

Oklahoma and Texas have put a limit on the number of tubewells by imposing spacing requirements but do not object to drilling of new tubewells in groundwater mining areas if the spacing norms permit.

Florida requires “consumptive use permit” for farmers using groundwater for irrigation, which restricts the quantity of water that an irrigator may use.

‘Four waters’

About 18 per cent of the irrigated area of China is wholly dependant on groundwater.

Between 1950 and 1986 large-scale increase in the irrigated area occurred—from 160 lakh to 480 lakh hectares. This resulted in the construction of a huge irrigation infrastructure and resulted in upsetting the natural surface flows. Dry spells combined with no control over withdrawals of groundwater resulted in rapid decline of the water table and distress reports were received from the counties of Longkou, Laizhen, Shouguang, and Tongnan.

One solution adopted for the problem is known as the “four-water concept.” It means the management of (i) groundwater, (ii) surface water, (iii) rainfall and (iv) soil moisture to provide two crops a year on as large an area as possible, with limited local water resource use.

Through optimisation of the four waters, sustainable agricultural development could be obtained. Groundwater is operated in a dynamic mode and not allowed to drop below a ‘prescribed level’ and recharged during summer months of excess surface flows. For reducing the water demand, mulching is adopted so as to reduce evaporative losses, particularly during the high evaporation period. 


Farm operations for August
It's nitrogen time for maize


— Adequate supply of water is essential for proper growth of crop. However, maize is very sensitive to standing water, so excessive water may be drained out from the field. Damage due to standing water can be minimized by spraying 3 per cent urea or by applying additional nitrogen fertiliser.

— Apply last dose of nitrogen through 35 kg urea per acre to early sown hybrid maize or high yielding varieties of maize at the appearance of tassels. Apply 25 kg urea per acre to local maize/Pearl Popcorn/ Parkash//JH-3459.

— To control leaf blight, spray the crop with Indofil M 45 @ 200 g in 100 litres of water.

— The attack of maize borer can be checked by spraying 40 ml of Sumicidin 20 EC/Ripcord 10 EC or 80 ml of Decis 2.8 EC or 100 ml Thiodan 35 EC or 110 ml Nuvacron 36 SL in 50 litres of water per acre.


— To keep weeds under check, hoe. Apply 35 kg urea per acre on the appearance of first flower.

— If the damage/population of sucking insect pests reaches economic threshold levels, spray the crop with 300 ml Anthio 25 EC or 250 ml Rogor 30 EC/Tara 909 or 300 ml Metasystox 25 EC or 75 ml Dimecron 85 SL per acre in 100 litres of water.

— To protect the crop from boll worm damage, the insecticides given in the table below are recommended. They should be sprayed using 125-150 litres of spray material per acre at 10 days interval.