Conservation farming: Haryana village shows the way

Sandip Das | Taraori village, Haryana, India

Even the biggest revolutions are known to have modest beginnings. Taraori, a village tucked away in Haryana, is witnessing something similar. At a time when the rest of the state is grappling with rapid depletion of groundwater and soil contamination, this village stands out like a bright spot amid the gloom. And it’s new-generation farmers like Vikas Chaudhary who are ushering in a change.

Chaudhary, who owns 34 acre of cultivable land in this village (considered the country’s Basmati hub), has been practising conservation farming methods, such as zero tillage, direct seeding and soil health-based fertiliser application, for the last three years.

And Chaudhary is just one of the 20-odd farmers in the region using conservation farming methods. As a result, not only has the old practice of burning crop residues in the fields come to an end, but the use of fertiliser, particularly urea, has consistently fallen.

“Through frequent soil-testing, we have noticed that farmers have been using less potash, which improves water retention and improves resistance to diseases,” Chaudhary told FE.

Mukesh Kumar, another farmer with 25 acre of land, has also employed modern methods such as direct seeding (of paddy) and cultivation of wheat right after paddy has been harvested (zero tillage — where crops are planted without disturbing the soil).

However, Chaudhary and Kumar admit that convincing the 120-odd farmers in the village to adopt the modern, climate-resilient methods would be a challenging task as the increase in yield and input cost savings take at least three years to reflect.

“Traditionally, farmers in Haryana and Punjab have been sowing wheat after rice harvesting. They till their land 6-8 times, which pushes up the production cost, leads to delays in planting of wheat and results in loss of residual soil moisture,” said ML Jat, senior scientist in Global Conservation Agriculture Programme (GCAP) initiated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Programme (CIMMYT).

Under GCAP, 20 villages in Haryana (around Karnal) have been selected for promotion of conservation farming methods. Out of that, five villages — Beer Narayana, Anjanthali, Pakhana, Sandhir and Taraori — have been piloted as ‘climate smart villages’.

According to a study conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), zero tillage helps one save on planting time, fuel and water apart from improving the fertilier’s efficiency. The study also states that wheat yields from ‘zero tillage’ areas with residue retention were 0.5 tonne/hectare higher than those from conventional tillage areas.

Groundwater levels in Haryana are depleting fast because of overuse for agricultural needs, threatening the future of agriculture in a state that’s been at the forefront of wheat and rice production. Last year, data by the state’s agriculture department, said that over the past 12 years, most districts have seen an average fall of 7.29 metres in the water table.

“The challenges faced by farmers are going to be more pronounced as climate change worsens. Let’s hope that sustainable agricultural practices show promising results and lower costs. Punjab also needs to step up its efforts in this direction,” said Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

Sturdy variety shores up India’s wheat output

Sturdy variety shores up India’s wheat output

Sandip Das: New Delhi, Jul 09 2013

The decline in wheat production due to the unusually high temperatures and rains during March and April this year could have been much sharper if it was not for large-scale adoption of a temperature-tolerant variety by farmers in the key growing areas of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

Although the ministry of agriculture has not revised wheat production estimates for 2012-13 from 93.62 million tonne (mt), agricultural scientists agree that there is a 10-15% decline in output because of rains in March and unusually high temperatures in April, which affected flowering.

However, large-scale cultivation of the temperature-resistant HD 2967 variety, developed by Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), minimised the fall in wheat output.

“Since 2011, when we introduced the variety, the adoption by farmers has been encouraging,” KV Prabhu, head, division of genetics, IARI, a premier institute under the agriculture ministry, told FE. According to Prabhu, the adoption rate of the HD 2967 variety has been around 50% this year in northern states.

The HD-2967 variety has given yield up to 21.4 quintal per acre against 20 quintal/acre for other varieties.

“Next year, we expect 70% farmers to adopt the variety as fluctuations in temperature during the flowering season become a regular trend in key growing areas,” he said. The variety not only deals with higher temperatures prior to harvesting, but also takes care of the yellow rust disease.

Indu Sharma, director of Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), said that thanks to some heat-resistant varieties, such as PB 343,PB 550 and HD 2967, developed by IARI, DWR and Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), farmers have been able to sustain production despite the fluctuations in temperature witnessed during the last few years.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently pegged India’s wheat production at 87 mt this year, which is 7% lower than the government’s latest estimate of 93.62 mt. “The rains and high humidity also led to a higher incidence of rust in north India and lodging in the early harvested wheat varieties,” the USDA said.

IARI has been experimenting with various wheat varieties from an estimated 28,000 wheat genes available with National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR).

In a first-of-itskind experiment to identify specific traits from the country’s huge genetic resources, NBPGR has characterised more than 5000 varieties of wheat germplasms for development of better seed varieties that can withstand climate change.

Top agricultural scientists associated with the charasterisation drive say that the purpose was to provide genetic variability, which helps in quality seed development.

New maize seed varieties get approval from Indian govt, to beat climate worry

Sandip Das

New Delhi, May 7:

With climate playing havoc in key maize-growing areas, the government has introduced four new seed varieties that would protect the crop from excessive rains, drought and heat.  Directorate of Maize Research (DMR), under the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), has given the breeder seeds for multiplication before introducing them for large-scale cultivation by 2014.

It takes about two years to multiply seeds for usage by farmers.

“For sustaining the health growth in maize production, we have decided to introduce new breeder seeds that would help farmers in dealing with fluctuations in temperature and rainfall,” OP Yadav, project director, DMR told FE.

At present, 75 varieties of hybrid seeds are available to maize-growingfarmers in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Since the introduction of hybrid seeds about a decade back, maize production has seen a quantum jump.

According to agriculture ministry data, maize production has jumped from 11.15 million tonne (mt) in 2002-3 to 21.82 mt in 2012-13, a jump of more than 93%.

Yadav said the demand for maize is growing at around 8% annually mainly because of the demand in poultry feed and starch industry. Only about 15% of maize produced is used for consumption.

“We need new varieties in the future that deal with biotic and other stresses from the climate change so that our output remains unaffected,” Yadav said.

DMR, along with 30 collaborative research centres located across various agro-climatic zones in the country, studied the performance of maize hybrids to adapt to rainfall changes.

The research found out that in cases of normal dates of sowing, medium and late-maturing hybrids gave higher yields, but in cases of delayed sowings owing to delayed rainfall, early and extra-early maturing hybrids performed well.

After the introduction of single-cross hybrid since 2006 by DMR, the production has significantly increased. Yadav said cross-hybrid works well with varying soil and weather conditions and it can withstand drought-like conditions as well.

Due to the rising demand for maize, the crop has been preferred by many farmers, particularly in the paddy region, because of the price it commands and also because it needs much less water in comparison to paddy.

Under the crop diversification plan, Haryana and Punjab are expected to shift a major chunk of paddy area to corn because of depletion of water table.

There has been high growth of maize cultivation in the non-traditional states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa and West Bengal. Andhra Pradesh is currently the largest maize producer, contributing 21% of annual production.