While the Centre has already issued a draft order banning the manufacturing and sale of 27 pesticides, a herbicide in this list has seen maximum sale in Punjab this Kharif season. This pre-emergent herbicide is Pendimethalin and the reason behind its high sale is Punjab bringing highest ever area under Direct Seeding of Rice (DSR) this year. This herbicide is mandatory for paddy sown with DSR which is compromised by weeds that compete with the plants for nutrition, sunlight, and water. This pre-emergent herbicide, which had no other alternative, is sprayed simultaneously at the time of sowing.
Experts said that around 12-15 lakh litres of Pendimethalin was sold in Punjab this year and if this is banned then DSR sowing will definitely get hit till the time its alternative is not available.
This year due to a shortage of labour the granary state faced a huge shortage of seasonal migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to undertake transplantation of paddy due to lockdown. This led farmers to opt for DSR, which does not require labour as the seed is directly sown in the well moist field with rice seeder, in place of conventional paddy transplanting, which needs already grown 25-30 days old paddy nursery which is transplanted in puddled fields by the labour.
Flood irrigation in the traditional method acts as herbicide as stagnate water does not allow weeds to grow in submerged paddy plants, which remain in the same condition for 4-5 weeks. In DSR, two kinds of herbicides are required. The first is called pre-emergent, which is applied compulsory before germination, and the second after the germination which may or may not be required.
Punjab has brought over 5 lakh hectares (12.37 lakh acres) area under DSR which is not only an all-time high area under it this year but also higher than what area the state had covered in past 10 years from 2009 to 2019.
Experts said that a minimum of 12.37 lakh litres of Pendimethalin has been used in the state because the recommended dose is one litre per acre at the time of the sowing of paddy with DSR technique.
“This year the minimum sale of Pendimethalin herbicide must be 12.37 lakh litres and it may have exceeded from it as at some places farmers have even used 1.5 to 2.0 litres per acre,” said Pesticides and Fertilisers Association (SPFA), Punjab, state president Mohinder Pal Singh Khalsa, adding that this herbicide is also used in moong pulse, cane, mattar (green peas) but the area under all these crops is quite less as compare to paddy.
“It has seen all time high sale in Punjab this time because this is the only available pre-emergent herbicide in the state for DSR,” he said.
“The maximum herbicide I have sold this year was pre-emergent Pendimethalin because in our area around 50 to 60 per cent farmers adopted DSR,” said Kulwant Singh, the owner of Rana Pesticides in Shahkot area, adding that earlier Pendimethalin used to remain unsold at his store.
There are over 10,000 pesticide dealers in Punjab and almost everyone has sold it, Khalsa said.
“We recommended one-litre Pendimethalin for one acre at the time of sowing,” said principal agronomist Makhan Singh Bhullar of Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana.
“If this is banned then there is no alternative available to the farmers at the moment and it will definitely affect the DSR sowing in future but for that farmers can go for double pre-sowing irrigation or rauni before final sowing of paddy with DSR. As after the first rauni, the first flush of weeds will appear in some days which can be uprooted with light cultivation and then the second rauni is done and the leftover weeds will grow in the second flush which can also be removed with light cultivation before the final sowing of paddy with DSR technique. And then farmers can go for hand pulling of weeds if some of them appear after germination of paddy plants,” said Dr Bhullar, adding that with this farmers can avoid the usage of herbicides in DSR fields. Pendimathlin has been in use for over three decades for controlling weeds in various crops.
In 2019-20 Punjab had used 4,930 metric tonnes pesticides which included 2,317 tonnes of herbicides, 2,119 tonnes of insecticides, and around 500 tonnes fungicides.
The usage of herbicides is maximum in the state as experts said that crops have less danger from the insects than the weeds.
“Even some international companies have stopped making insecticides now and they are only focusing on the herbicides,” said Khalsa, adding that in the traditional method of paddy transplantation farmers use herbicides after the transplanting of paddy nursery in the puddled field but those herbicides have several alternative and farmers use them as per their wish but in case of Pendimethalin there is no option.
A senior officer requesting anonymity in the Punjab Agriculture department said that they have written to the Centre pointing about the trouble with banning Pendimethalin.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines