On the way to Nakodar from Jalandhar city, one witnesses a major change in villages falling under the Lambra circle. Unlike most parts of Punjab where stubble burning was rampant recently and charred fields a common sight along all highways, most farmers of this area refrained from the decades-old practice for the second consecutive year.
Almost all farmers cultivating 6,000 acres in the circle, including Lallian Khurd, Lallian Kalan, Rampur Lallian and Partappura villages, chose to plough back stubble into the soil and prepare the fields for the next crop — potato.
The farmers of this progressive belt who harvest three crops a year have already sown potatoes. “The technique of ploughing stubble back into the soil has benefited us in more than one way. Not only has the air become cleaner, but we also now realise that there are several long-term benefits of not burning stubble. Our soil has started becoming more fertile. We can see a higher growth of farmer-friendly worms and bacteria. The biggest benefit is that after the use of the mulcher, MB plough and rotavator in the fields, the percolation of rainwater into the soil has increased, which saves our potato crop during the winter rain,”says Jagjit Singh, a farmer and the sarpanch of Lallian Khurd village.
A postgraduate, Jagjit Singh, who is cultivating the crop on about 80 acres, says that last year he convinced other big farmers in the village and surrounding areas to form societies, go for the purchase of sets of three machines and avail 80 per cent subsidy from the government. “A society of nine farmers each incurred about Rs 2 lakh expenditure on buying high-end, branded machines, the cost of which they recovered last year itself by taking rental charges,” he adds.
“For this year, we held meetings in September and announced that since now we have about 30 sets of machines, the farmers in the entire circle could use them one after the other. We also announced that this time we will not take any rental charges for the machines but the farmers would have to use their own fuel, which would cost them nearly Rs 1,000 for an acre. This cost was recoverable as the requirement of fertilisers and manures got reduced by 50 per cent as stubble itself acted as manure. If 80 per cent of the farmers came along last year, this time all of them agreed to the proposal in one voice,” he adds
Jaswant Singh, who is cultivating 4 acres and is using the technique for the second year, says, “Of course it was easier to prepare fields for the next crop earlier. It used to take us just two days or so to till the soil after burning paddy straw. But the new technique takes two days more as stubble pieces need a few extra days to mix in the soil. However, as an added advantage, the soil gets ploughed very well up to 8-inch depth which benefits the potato crop to a large extent. The rent-free assistance offered by the farmer societies came as a big help. Now that the state government has offered us Rs 2,500 per acre, we hope that it will be a win-win situation for us.”
Gurpreet Singh, who has 15-acre land, says, “I am all for this technique, but like small farmers, we, too, have incurred greater expenditure in preparing the fields. So, the government must extend subsidy to us as well, lifting the 5-acre bar so as to encourage big and medium farmers like us to adopt environment-friendly techniques.”
• PAU Super Straw Management System (SMS), an attachment to a combine harvester that chops and spreads out evenly loose straw, was introduced to facilitate the working of the Happy Seeder and other in situ straw management machines.
• PAU has developed a series of short-duration parmal rice varieties such as PR121, PR124 and PR126 which take 110, 105 and 93 days for maturity, respectively, after transplanting as compared to about 130 days consumed by the long-duration varieties such as Pusa44. The short-duration varieties not only provide a larger window of time for sowing the next crop but also have low biomass, making them more amenable to straw management through machines.
• Financial support is available through a Central sector scheme for promotion of agricultural mechanisation for in situ management of crop residue in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT Delhi. Under this initiative, there is a provision to make available in-situ crop residue management machinery to farmers at 50 per cent subsidy and to Primary Agricultural Co-operative Societies and farmer groups establishing custom hiring centres at 80 per cent subsidy.
• Punjab provided 28,492 straw management machines out of the first instalment of Rs 261 crore in 2018.