A new high-yielding short-duration pigeon-pea variety, Pusa Arhar-16, bred by scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), can go some way in bridging the country’s growing demand-supply gap in pulses, finance minister Arun Jaitley has said.
“India is the world’s largest producer, consumer as well as importer of pulses. We need technological breakthroughs of this kind in pulses, given that they meet the bulk of our population’s protein requirements, which will only grow,” he said at a function after visiting the trial fields of IARI at its Pusa campus here on Monday.
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Normal arhar varieties are tall — above 2 meters plant height — and take 160-180 days to mature, while yielding about 20 quintals of grain per hectare. The new dwarf arhar variety, whose plants are barely a metre tall (95 cm to 120 cm), gives the same 20 quintals/hectare yield while maturing in just 120 days. That allows farmers the flexibility to sow anytime from June 5 to even the first week of July, following the monsoon’s onset. A single irrigation at most may be required at the pod formation stage.
In normal arhar varieties, the flowers, moreover, do not set pods at the same time. It means that at the time of harvesting, not all pods are mature; some may have already shattered, and others are still developing or even at the flowering/vegetative bud stages. In the Pusa Arhar-16 variety, there is synchronous maturity with podding happening only at the top. So, the entire crop can be harvested at one go using combines, without the need for manual labourers for cutting and threshing.
“This is a new semi-erect compact plant type. The high yields result from high-density planting, with row-to-row distance of 30 cm and plant-to-plant spacing of 10 cm, whereas these are 75 cm and 30 cm respectively in traditional varieties. High-density planting is not possible in their case because the plants themselves are of indeterminate and spreading type,” explained KV Prabhu, joint director (Research) at IARI and the main breeder of the new arhar variety.
Jaitley, along with Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, were present at the trial fields where the Pusa Arhar-16 crop planted in the current kharif season was combine harvested. Apart from IARI’s Pusa campus, the variety has also been planted at trial fields of state agricultural universities in Punjab (about 10 locations, including Ludhiana), Hisar (Haryana), Durgapura and Kota (Rajasthan), Pantnagar (Uttaranchal), Medziphema (Nagaland) and Lembucherra (Tripura).
Any new publicly-bred crop variety is normally released for commercial cultivation after three years of multi-location trials. Though 2016 was technically the first year of such trials for Pusa Arhar-16, “we can make an exception for it, given the good results in the demonstration plots and the urgency to boost our domestic pulses production”, Radha Mohan Singh said.