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Posted at: May 13, 2019, 8:12 AM; last updated: May 13, 2019, 8:38 AM (IST)AGRICULTURE: PADDY CULTIVATION

When short cut works

Short-duration varieties of paddy offer several advantages, write Gurjit Singh Mangat and Buta Singh Dhillon

CROP productivity is an outcome of a complex interaction between genetic, environmental and cultural management factors. Due to the consistent efforts of scientists and farmers, Punjab has witnessed an increase in the production and productivity of paddy to the tune of 45 times and 4.3 times, respectively, over the past five decades. Thus, Punjab has been contributing 30-48 per cent to the Central rice pool and playing a key role in ensuring nationwide food security. 

Decline in underground water table, formation of hardpan in soil, paddy straw burning and other problems are associated with paddy cultivation. Considering these issues, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, has been urging farmers for the past two decades to reduce the area under rice. However, due to yield stability, assured marketing, mechanisation and food security, the area under paddy cultivation is instead on the rise. This is putting more pressure on water resources and also resulting in a substantial increase in paddy residue. 

The university has directed its breeding strategies towards the development of short-duration varieties with higher per-day productivity, low paddy residue load, good milling quality characteristics and tolerance to diseases. In this direction, during the past six years, PAU has recommended a dozen parmal and basmati varieties. The short-duration varieties have been widely adopted by farmers. The area under short-duration varieties in Punjab has increased from 32 per cent during 2012 to 82 per cent during 2018. The rising popularity of these varieties has not only increased production, but also set records in terms of productivity and contribution to the Central rice pool.

Boost for legislation

The adoption of short-duration varieties  has been a shot in the arm for the Preservation of Sub-soil Water Ordinance/Act, Punjab (2008/2009) that permitted paddy transplantation from June 10. This Act was revised (date changed to June 15) in 2014 without causing any yield handicap. Successive record yields were observed in 2016 and 2017. During these years, still shorter-duration varieties became available, offering the opportunity of shifting the date of start of transplantation further close to the onset of monsoon.

The water table of the state is declining at the rate of 0.51 metre per annum. The rate of decline in the central districts (Barnala, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Mansa, Moga and Sangrur) is over 1 metre per annum. In spite of heavy rainfall during the monsoon in 2018, the recharge of the water table in these districts is negative. The number of incidents of paddy residue fires was also higher in these districts. These districts still have sizeable area (40 to 60 per cent) under long-duration varieties (Pusa 44, Peeli Pusa etc.). 

Perception vs reality

The selection of long-duration varieties (Pusa 44, Peeli Pusa) by farmers is associated with the perception that owing to their higher yield, these are more profitable. But this perception does not hold true when we evaluate the economics of growing these varieties by taking into account various inputs and other operations. An analysis of survey data revealed that PR121, PR126 and Pusa 44 yielded, on an average, 30.9, 30.1 and 32.6 quintals of paddy per acre, respectively. Though Pusa 44 (160 days) yielded more than PR 121 and PR126, it requires substantially higher input costs as compared to short-duration PR varieties. After taking into account all these additional costs incurred on the cultivation of Pusa 44, its net returns over PR121 and PR126 varieties were less by Rs 278 and Rs 176 per acre, respectively. If the cost of free electricity supplied to the farmers for irrigation is also included in the input costs, the net returns from PR121 and PR126 varieties will be much higher than Pusa 44. Short-duration varieties have higher per-day productivity, a bigger window between the harvesting of paddy and the sowing of rabi crops, low paddy residue load and lower cultivation cost owing to lesser use of pesticides and decreased irrigation. 

Treading cautiously

Declining water table, negative recharge during the monsoon and more cases of burning of paddy residue in the central districts of Punjab are the key issues that should be addressed. As a result of joint efforts of extension scientists and farmers, the area under long-duration varieties reduced from 80-90 per cent during 2012 to 40-60 per cent during 2018 in these districts. But in view of a sharp decline in the water table and the challenge of paddy residue management, there is an urgent need to give up cultivation of Pusa 44, Peeli Pusa etc. 

Past trends show that if the area under basmati is increased beyond 5-5.5 lakh hectares, it doesn’t fetch appropriate returns. This is exemplified by the production during 2014-15 and 2015-16, when the area under basmati was 8.62 and 7.6 lakh hectares, respectively, but the market price dropped to almost half of the normal rate. Last year (kharif 2018), the area under basmati was around 5 lakh hectares and farmers fetched good returns. So, farmers are cautioned not to plant too much area under basmati simply on the basis of the previous year’s trend.

In the recent past, farmers have sown paddy in the dry seed bed, which is prepared without applying rauni (pre-sowing) irrigation. The previous year’s shattered seeds also germinate along with the fresh sown ones. To overcome this problem, farmers are advised to sow paddy in the fields where the crop was not sown during the previous year or should go for a stale seed bed wherein seeds and weeds are allowed to germinate by applying rauni followed by 2-3 ploughings to destroy them. 

Important tips

  • Sow newly released varieties on a limited area during the first year. 
  • Do not apply second and third dose of nitrogenous fertilisers in standing water and irrigate the fields on the third day of fertiliser application.
  • Use the chemicals and fertilisers judiciously. The use of acephate, lambda, cyper increases the attack of hoppers (kalatela).
  • Survey the crop regularly and in case of any problem take the advice of agriculture experts.
The authors are associated with Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana

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