Punjab: Smog delays wheat sowing, but farmers reluctant to blame straw burning

Sowing down to 40% as farmers wait for sun to break through, unions say farmers unfairly targeted.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba , Raakhi Jagga | Jalandhar/ludhiana | Updated: November 15, 2017 8:09 am
Delhi air pollution, delhi smog, Punjab farmers, Stubble burning According to the agriculture department, the best time to sow wheat in Punjab is from October-end to November 15.

The best period for sowing the wheat crop is about to end in Punjab. But Harjinder Singh Tanda has not been able to sow a single acre yet. Now, he is worried that late sowing will affect the yield adversely, but he has no option but to wait for some more days. The reason: there’s too much moisture in the fields, and the dense smog from crop stubble burning has prevented the sun from breaking through.

Harjinder Singh owns 15 acres land in Tanda village of Khadoor Sahib in Tarn Taran district. After paddy harvesting he sows wheat on 10 acres and green peas (matar) on five acres. By now last year, and in previous years, he had completed the sowing for wheat.

Iss vaari dundhan ik mahina pehle he aa gaiyan te mere khet ajje gille ne, hun inan nu dhup chahidi hai par phiechle 10 dina ton dhup hi nahi aa rahi jis karke kanak di bijai nahin ho paa rahi (This time fog has engulfed our area a month early due to which my fields are quite damp and sowing in not possible without having proper sunshine to dry the fields. But there has been no sun for the past 10 days due to which sowing is delayed),” he said.
Harjinder concedes that he was among the thousands of farmers who burnt crop stubble to prepare his fields for wheat sowing quickly. “I burnt the stubble in all my 15 acres. What else could I have done. I don’t have the machinery. Everyone burnt their fields,” he said.

Now, he is worried about the consequences of late sowing. “Sowing after November 15 means less yield. Late sowing could decrease yield by two quintal. Timely sowing gives us 22 to 24 quintal wheat per acre,” he intoned. After harvesting peas on five acres, he sows a late wheat variety on this land too in December. “But the yield of that is just 16-17 quintal per acre against 22-24 quintal/acre which we get from timely sowing of wheat,” he said.

According to the Agriculture department the best wheat sowing time in the state is from October-end till November 15 (after this period yield gets affected). Officials confirmed that wheat sowing was set back because of the dense smog due to stubble burning by farmers.

Director Punjab Agriculture Department Dr J S Bains said that just 40 per cent sowing had so far been completed. “The fields need to be dry before sowing. Now there is prediction of rain, but while the smog will clear, there will be a further delay in sowing, and it may cause danger to the already sown crop.” Government records show that by this time last year, farmers across Punjab had sown 65-70 per cent of the wheat.

Punjab Arhtiya Association President, Ravinder Singh Cheema, told The Indian Express that wheat sowing got delayed due to smog from field fires. “Large number of farmers put the fields on fire during the first week of November which is the wheat sowing season too due to which entire state was engulfed in the smog and delayed the sowing,” he said, adding that after November 15 sowing yield will be affected.

Baljinder Singh of Kotha Guru in Bathinda district has not been able to do much wheat sowing. “I also burnt some part of my fields after harvesting paddy crop, like many others,” he admitted with some difficulty. “Now everyone can see for themselves, thick smog clouds have engulfed the sky, sun is not coming and wheat sowing season has already been delayed. No doubt burning fields is not good, but we have no choice, there is hardly any time left between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing. So we have to do stubble burning. However, if we are given some solid solution, we can no doubt stop burning the fields. Till now, I have sown wheat only in 9 acres land. So the loss is mine and none else’s.”

But most farmers and kisan unions are still reluctant to link stubble burning to the smog that has delayed wheat sowing. Like Harjinder, farmer Satnam Singh from Jandusingha village in Jalandhar, who owns 20 acres, and takes another 50 on contract, burnt paddy stubble to sow his potato crop quickly.

“I sow wheat and potato on 25 acres each after paddy and maize harvesting, but till date I have not been able to sow half of my wheat fields due to smog. There has been hardly any visibility after three pm in the fields for the past 10 days…Plus the fields are wet because after burning we need to water them for preparing next crop,” he said.
Satnam, however, denied the link between stubble burning and smog. “We have been burning stubble for decades but never had this kind of smog been there in November,” he said.

Sohan Singh of Sal Khurad village in Nawanshahr, who said he had set fire to paddy stubble on his five acres because he cannot not afford to engage stubble management machinery, said he too has been waiting for sowing wheat because his fields are damp.

“I used to sow wheat after paddy harvesting by second week of this month every year, but this time I am still waiting for the conducive weather,” he said, adding that he had never seen such smog in November in his life. Asked if stubble burning could be the reason for his problem, he did not agree.

Farmers’ unions, meanwhile, continue to assert that the smog was not created by the paddy stubble burning, and that farmers were being unfairly targeted. “Is stubble burning the only reason for reducing pollution?” asked Sukhdev Singh, General Secretary of Bhartiya Kissan Union (Ugrahan). “There could be other reasons such as industrial pollution. We are ready to abide by the instructions of NGT provided government provides us compensation per acre or even offers marketing solution of other crops such as moongi, maize etc. Who wants to burn stubble? The farmer himself suffers the most, as he has to inhale the maximum fumes. So we need to understand the causes behind this rather than targeting just farmers.”

Jagmohan Singh, General Secretary, BKU (Dakonda), said climate change had delayed the paddy harvest, because of which wheat sowing had got delayed. “When there is decline in stubble burning cases in Punjab how can the smog be blamed on stubble burning here,” he said.

He said that farmers should advance paddy sowing by at least one month, and sow short duration varieties of paddy to avoid delay in wheat sowing. Jhanda Singh, President of BKU (Ugrahan), added, “Farmer is at receiving end, but the authorities who introduced paddy in Punjab need to give a solution. No doubt we are suffering because of delay in sowing, but there is need to study the reasons for climate change.”

Meanwhile, those who said they stopped burning paddy stubble said they were suffering for no fault of theirs. Harmeet Singh of Aawa village in Fazilka, said had ceased burning stubble three years ago, but complained that he was the paying the price for what other farmers  had done.

“I wanted to complete wheat sowing before November 15, but I have not even started yet. The fields are not yet ready. There is hardly any sunlight and if the field is not dry, how can one use it for second crop,” he said.
Only a few, including those who admitted they had burnt their fields, were hopeful that this year’s delay in sowing might lead to some changes next year. Buta Singh from Dheera Patra village of Ferozepur said, who is still waiting to sow wheat on his 25 acres, said: “Farmers realise their mistake, may be they will shun crop burning next season”.
Amarjeet Singh, a farmer based in Bhurekalan in Ferozepur said: “I am sure farmers will take lesson from this season.”

He said he had burnt stubble on seven acres. “Apart from me, many others in my village also did the same. Everyone is now waiting eagerly for sunshine. Now, it has rained and hence it will no doubt give some relief from smoggy weather, but wheat sowing will be delayed further as fields will be wet. A number of farmers are still to get rid of their paddy stubble, for them the sowing will be delayed by nearly a month.”

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