June 2, 2003, Chandigarh, India
can’t afford to neglect pastures
pulses quietly disappeared
to monsoon vagaries
Experience has shown that monsoon is highly uncertain with respect to onset and withdrawal, thus making rain-fed farming a gamble.
Normally a particular area may witness one of the three situations: 1) Normal onset of monsoon followed by a long gap (20-30 days or more) between subsequent rains, adversely affecting sowing and establishment of crops; 2) Delayed onset of monsoon followed by heavy rains, which hinder cultural operations; and 3) Early onset of monsoon with heavy rains followed by early withdrawal, which may adversely affect the reproductive growth of kharif crops and success of rabi crops.
Under such conditions, raising crops successfully is a herculean task and timely decisions have to be taken to cope with the situation. Thus, contingent crop planning that keeps in consideration the variability in rainfall, the resources available and land-use capabilities assumes significance.
For optimum utilisation of land and water resources and good harvest, only 60 per cent of the area should be allocated to kharif crops and the remaining should be cultivated during the rabi season. The cropped area during kharif needs proper planning. A proportionate area during rabi should be brought under cereals/millets, fodders, pulses and oilseeds.
Prompt decisions and action are the key under such situations. Making the best use of land, water and other resources and putting the latest technology into practice, higher productivity can be achieved. The following tips may help under such situations:
Normal onset of monsoon followed by long gap between subsequent rains:
—In the case of early/timely onset of monsoon, grain crops such as maize, pearl, millet and sorghum should be sown. Grain legumes, if sown early would grow vigorously, resulting in poor seed yield.
—Under long dry spells, plant population of cereals and millets should be reduced by about 40 per cent to meet the moisture requirements of the remaining plants.
—Weak plants and those that do not bear panicles or earheads should be removed. Harvesting of alternate rows for fodder at 6-7 weeks after sowing depending upon maturity duration gives good yields and saves the crop from complete failure.
—Under conditions of timely onset on monsoon, but long interval between subsequent rains, intercropping of cereals with pulses is more beneficial as compared to cereals alone. Intercropping of sorghum/ pearl-millet/ maize with moong/ urd/ guar holds promise. Similarly, sorghum + pigeon pea intercropping is more remunerative than either of the sole crops under aberrant weather conditions.
—Interculture and weeding operations should not be delayed and should be done in time at appropriate crop growth stages.
—Adopt latest scientific agronomic technology of crop production. Apply nutrients as per recommendations. Nitrogenous fertiliser should be applied with caution unless adequate rain is received or irrigation is possible. If there has been a long dry spell before the reproductive stage of cereals or millets, when rain is received, apply a small dose of nitrogen (15-20 kg/ha).
Delayed onset of monsoon:
—Where rainfall is inadequate to meet the requirements of dry-land crops, cultivation should be done only in half of the area and the other half should be left uncultivated with a provision to contribute run-off water to the cropped area.
—Appropriate short-duration and drought-tolerant crops and crop cultivars should be grown. Intercropping of cereals/millets with pulses gives better performance than cereals/millets alone.
—Cereals/millets give poor yields due to reduced crop duration while grain legumes and oilseeds perform reasonably well.
—Under such conditions, cereals such as maize and millets like pearl-millet and sorghum should be grown for fodder.
—Use higher seed rate to compensate for reduced germination in case of delayed sowing when delayed onset of monsoon is followed by heavy rains.
—Under conditions of heavy rainfall following delayed onset of monsoon, excess water should be drained out. Maize is particularly sensitive to stagnating water. Crop damage due to standing water can be minimised by spraying 3 per cent urea or by top-dressing a small quantity of nitrogenous fertiliser (15-20 kg/ha) after draining out the water.
—In case the early-sown cereals and millets have been damaged beyond starvation point due to scarcity of water, fields should be prepared for short-duration (8-12 weeks) crops such as fodders, pulses, oilseeds, etc.
—All nutrients should preferably be drilled at the sowing time. Weeds should be controlled in time to ensure efficient use of moisture and nutrients.
—If there is no rain till the beginning of August, do not sow any crop during kharif and conserve moisture for rabi crops. If rains elude even in August, rabi crops—raya, lentil, chickpea, etc—should be sown. Under delayed monsoon, sowing of raya in September is more beneficial than toria.
Early onset of monsoon with heavy rainfall followed by early withdrawal:
—The plant population between rows should be reduced.
—For crops sown in kharif, only the plants in reproductive stage should be retained and the remaining should be removed and used as fodder to avoid moisture competition during the critical reproductive stage.
—Interculture and weeding operations must be performed in time. This helps in moisture conservation and reduces moisture competition.
—Arrangements must be made to provide life-saving irrigation.
—Maize cobs should be plucked early. If there is a likelihood of the crop being damaged by moisture stress, it should be harvested for fodder. In cotton, lower leaves can be safely nipped off to save moisture.
PAU on irrigation
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, experts have expressed alarm over the declining water table in the state. Through different management practices, such as irrigation schedules, optimum sowing time, tillage and interculture, water use of different crops can be reduced, they say.
The university has suggested that in rice higher yields can be maintained by irrigating the crop at two-day drainage period after continuous submergence for two weeks after transplantation. Also, it says that the ideal time for starting rice transplantation is June 10. This would save 60 cm irrigation water, as compared to continuous submergence throughout the year.
afford to neglect pastures
Continuous degradation and depletion of grasslands and pastures has adversely affected dairy development. Livestock contributes 20 per cent of cash household income in the hills. On an average, a hill household in Himachal Pradesh raises six to 10 animals.
Based on recommendations of the National Commission on Agriculture, the per-annum total demand for dry and green fodder in Himachal is 41.65 and 72.28 lakh tonnes, respectively. The area under fodder crops in the state is very less-about 1 per cent of the total cropped area, as against about 4.5 per cent at the national level. The gap between the total dry and green fodder requirement and production is estimated to be 14.45 (34.69 per cent) and 41.48 lakh tones (57.39 per cent), respectively. The by-products of food crops and ghasinis are the main source of dry fodder while green fodder is mainly obtained from fodder crops, trees and pastures.
The area under grasslands and pastures in the state is nearly twice that under crop production, including horticulture, but it has received little attention from research and development departments. There is a need to start integrated development so as to conserve and improve soil and water resources. Grasslands are the cheapest source of nutrients because pasture management aims at converting solar energy into animal product.
At present, the productivity of grasslands is low due to bushes and other undesirable plants, which not only compete with forage species but restrict the area too. The pastures and grazing lands in hill states are vulnerable to soil erosion. The carrying capacity of grasslands needs to be determined. Over-grazing has been the principal cause of their deterioration. If grasses are allowed to grow to an advanced stage, not only does their nutritive value come down, but their digestibility is also reduced. The maximum dry matter is obtained when grasses are cut at the seed-formation stage; but at this stage desirable nutrients like crude protein and digestibility are at a low level. The grasses of Himachal Pradesh are poor in quality, with a high fibre and low energy content.
Losses could also be cut by reducing the unproductive periods in cattle. The production of straw and crop residues can be increased by adopting yield-increasing technology in food grains. The large areas under marginal and sub-marginal lands can be diverted to grasses and quick-growing fodder trees. The quality of pasturelands, or ghasinis, and wastelands needs to be improved substantially for the introduction of suitable fodder plants and trees. While selecting grass species and fodder trees the local ecological requirements and preferences and needs of the local communities need to be considered.
Fodder production can be increased by better seeds and legumes, adopting rotational grazing, fertilisers, and eliminating obnoxious weeds.
Crop rotation schemes that promote fodder production without adversely affecting the grain crops need to be implemented. Similarly, incorporation of leguminous fodders like berseem on irrigated land in the crop rotation scheme can not only reduce fodder shortage but also be beneficial to other crops. The area covered by double cropping is small at present and there is a considerable scope for growing pulses as a second crop after rice or as a monsoon crop. New short-duration fodder varieties should be evolved, which can fit into inter-cropping schemes.
The onset of pre-monsoon rains is the ideal time for reseeding of grasses for the low and mid-hill regions. However, in the high hills and high-hill dry temperate zones, seeding should be done after the melting of snow in early spring. The paucity of green fodder in summer can be overcome by either developing summer fodder varieties or preserving green fodder in the form of hay or silage.
While many technological
leads are available in land management and dairy development, these
remain to be tapped. Himachal has the potential of becoming an exporter
of milk, meat, wool and other products. To achieve a breakthrough in
pasture improvement, collaborated efforts between forest, agriculture
and animal husbandry departments and the agricultural universities would
pulses quietly disappeared
Historically pulses have formed an important part of the farming system in Punjab. Today these multiple utility, energy-rich crops are grown under conditions of "no-input" management environment, with the lion's share of fertilisers and irrigation reserved for cereals like rice and wheat.
A major reason is that pulses fail to provide a comparative advantage over alternative crops. Increase in pulse production can, therefore, only be realised by fitting pulse crops of short duration into feasible cropping patterns. Pulse producers barely get 50p of every rupee spent by consumers on pulses. The middlemen get the rest. The benefits of high prices in the retail markets are not passed on to the producers.
Pulse crops are also highly susceptible to damage by a large number of insect pests and diseases. They are also damaged in storage. The infrastructure for drying and processing of pulse grains is absent, discouraging small farmers from undertaking large-scale production of pulses. Very little research has been undertaken on the epidemiology and control measures of the diseases that affect pulses. Research in this area needs to be intensified. This is despite the fact that soil and climate conditions in Punjab are very favourable for pulses, especially black gram, summer moong and lentil.
Although there are a large number of improved varieties of pulse seeds available (200, in fact), there are few specific successful varieties. The improved varieties developed in laboratories give high yields in demonstration plots but fail to perform in farmer's fields because cultivators fail to adopt, or are unable to adopt, the complementary package of practices.
If the existing tendency
continues the area under pulses is likely to fall further. There is,
therefore, a need for more focused research aimed at developing
high-yielding varieties that are area specific. Government research
programmes must be reoriented in favour of pulses. This is essential to
safeguard against the uncertainties peculiar to specialised agriculture.
The main efforts of agricultural research and extension services have so
far concentrated on the so-called "superior cereals",
particularly irrigated wheat. This must change through an emphasis on
relay and inter-cropping in order to attain year-round sustainable