“Soil health card, what is that?” asks Talwinder Singh.
Despite it having been launched by the Punjab government five years ago, Talwinder, a 32-year-old farmer from Nauli village in Jalandhar district about the existence of the Soil Health Card (SHC), which is a report card of a farmer’s field, containing every required information about the soil health including deficiencies and excesses nutrients, which farmers can refer to while using fertilisers.
Talwinder, who owns five acres of land, has been doing farming on 70 acres since 2006 after completing his class 10+2. The young farmer has been growing paddy, Basmati, maize, sugarcane, and wheat crops.
“I have been doing farming for the past 14 years but I am hearing about this scheme for the first time,” said he, adding that till date, no one had come to his fields either to take samples or to hand over a soil health card. “I have not even seen a single farm camp in my village in all these years,” he further said.
Onkar Singh, a 54-year-old farmer from Majitha village in the same tehsil of Amritsar district, said the same.
“No one came and tested my soil. In fact I myself have once gone to get soil from my one-acre plot tested at the government soil testing lab in Sunam, but till date I am waiting for the results,” said farmer Devinder Singh of Kanakwal Bhanguan village in Sangrur district, adding that neither he nor his fellow farmers friends have ever received a soil health card in past five years.
Balwant Singh, another progressive and educated farmer from Gudhani Kalan village in Ludhiana district said, “I have not got any such card as agriculture department officials. When we need them, they can hardly visit us due to their engagement in works other than agriculture like census, elections and now Covid-19 duties.”
Several farm leaders, who keep farmers updated about every happening in the agri sector, have not heard about it in their respective villages.
BKU Ugrahan General Secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said that at ground level many farmers are not aware of the scheme. “I myself had read about it in the newspapers only a few years back but did not get any soil health card till date.”
There are around 12 lakh farmer households in Punjab as per records of Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, and government has claimed to have distributed 24.30 lakhs SHCs. However, ground reality appears different.
Kokrikalan said, “If the government wants it can utilise the Primary Cooperative Societies at village-level, to which each farmer of the state is connected, to implement such a scheme but governments are pro-outsourcing rather believing their own departments.”
What govt has done
According to government officials, 24.30 lakh SHCs were distributed among farmers of Punjab in two cycles and under the ‘Model Village’ programme in the past five years. The state government had announced that Punjab will be the first state in the country to prepare a soil fertility map for each landholding.
According to the agriculture department, there were around 10.93 lakh operational land holdings in Punjab till some years back, and around 18.50 lakh farmers.
The scheme launched in 2015-16 pan-India, promoted by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, is being implemented by all state and UT governments since 2015-16. The aim was to assess the current status of soil health by taking samples from fields and, when used over time, to determine changes in soil health that are affected by land management. The government has planed to cover all farmers under it and a farm will get SHC once in every three years.
“In the first and second cycle of the soil health, 16,70,000 samples of soil were collected including 8,35,000 in each cycle from across the 22 districts of Punjab and 12.51 lakh and 11.61 lakh soil health cards were issued in the first and second cycles to the farmers, respectively,” said Joint Director (Fertilisers), agriculture department Punjab, Jagtar Singh Brar, adding that in both cycles they have covered almost all farmers of Punjab.
Sources said that till date, around 2 lakh households are still not covered in the state and a large number got their cards only on paper.
The state has around 150 soil testing labs, of which only a couple dozens are equipped for testing all 16 types of nutrients. The remaining can only test nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil.
The government has outsourced soil testing work to a Ludhiana-based private firm which has the latest testing equipment and now it (the State) has purchased two machines costing around Rs 70 lakh each as these machines can test the level of all required nutrients in soil in one go and have a capacity of testing thousands of samples in a single day, said sources, adding that the cost per sample is Rs 300, of which Rs 180 is paid by Centre and Rs 120 by state.
Farmers who have got soil health cards say they are hardly following instructions given on it because individual fields are not taken by the department.
“Why should I follow it when the sample of my field was not taken,” said an SHC holder from Char-Ke village in Jalandhar.
“As per the scheme in cycle 1 and 2, we collected soil samples after making a grid of 12 acres of land. Soil samples are collected from the four corners of this grid not from the individual field. On the basis of its result, SHCs are issued to all farmers whose land comes under that grid,” said Brar, adding that now under the model village scheme they are collecting soil samples from individual farmers as well and till date 17,993 farmers have been covered till the scheme was halted this year due to Covid-19.
The soil samples are generally taken during summers in May-June.
According to data uploaded on the portal of the Ministry of Agriculture GOI, Punjab’s soil has nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and organic carbon on the lower side as compared to the all-India average.
Punjab — which forms 1.53 per cent of the total area of the country — is using around 9 per cent of the total fertilisers. According to experts, Punjab’s cultivated area is around 40 lakh hectares and usage of urea should be around 9-9.50 Lakh Metric tonnes (LMT) per cropping season — kharif and rabi — and usage of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), which is mainly used in the rabi season only, should be around 5 lakh tonnes but Punjab is using around 13 LMT urea per cropping season and its DAP usage was 7.50 LMT in 2017, which came done to 6.70 LMT in 2019 and may go down further this year. The SHCs scheme could really help bring this down, said an expert from PAU.
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