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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Paddy sowing season amid pandemic: Amid migrant labour shortage, more farmers opt for mechanised transplanting in Punjab

The technique saves time, labour and cuts cost by nearly Rs 4,000-5,000 per acre compared to manual transplanting, said agriculture officials.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | July 23, 2020 12:56:16 am
Coronavirus pandemic, Paddy sowing, mechanised transplanting, migrant labour shortage, Jalandhar news, Punjab news, Indian express news A whopping increase in area of mechanical transplanting has been seen this season in Punjab. (Representational)

At a time when Punjab is facing acute shortage of migrant labour specialising in conventional transplantation of paddy (hailing primarily from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) amid the pandemic, around a thousand rice/paddy transplanting machines — mostly made in China, Japan and Korea — are being used in agricultural fields.

The technique saves time, labour and cuts cost by nearly Rs 4,000-5,000 per acre compared to manual transplanting, said agriculture officials.

A whopping increase in area of mechanical transplanting has been seen this season in Punjab. But while this has been technique available to farmers for over a decade, it did not get a good response because farmers find ‘paddy nursery’ raising for transplanters a cumbersome process.

Collectively, these transplanters have cultivated 52,000 hectares (1,28,440 acres) in 40 days from June 10 to July 11 — an 8-fold increase in area as compared to last year. Around 2,000-3000 hectares more may be covered under this system by the end of rice sowing this month.

“Since mechanical transplantation was introduced in Punjab in 2007-08, the state has never transplanted more than 3,000 to 4,000 hectares paddy per year with this method, barring last year when 6,500 hectares (16,055 acres) was brought under it,” said a senior officer in the Punjab agriculture department, adding that this time there was a huge response from farmers, and labour shortage is the main reason.

This year alone, 700 paddy transplanters (several of which reached farmers only in July) were purchased by farmers of Punjab while the number of these machines was just 313 till last year.

How did demand for this method first arise?

The need for rice transplanters was first felt in the state following the enactment of MG-NREGS Act in 2005, which led several migrant labourers, who were experts in paddy transplanting, to staying back in their home states — Bihar and UP — to avail the 100 days’ guaranteed employment at their native places rather than coming to Punjab for two months in the paddy sowing season.

Then Punjab imported 171 Chinese and Japanese-made transplanters till 2018 and then 142 were more in 2019. In the ongoing season, 700 have been purchased.

There are three types of these machines — the ‘walk-behind’ (the person walks with it in the puddled field) having two models (4-row and 6-row), the ‘single wheel ride on’ and ‘four-wheeled ride on’. While the ‘walk-behind’ model costs around Rs 3-3.50 lakh each, the ‘single wheel ride on’ and ‘four wheel ride on’ machines cost Rs 2.5- 3.5 lakh and Rs 10-14 lakh respectively. While most of them are made in China or Japan, some Indian companies’ transplanters were also made available to farmers at 40-50 per cent subsidy. However, farmers are still waiting for the subsidy for the purchase they made last year.

“Walk-behind and single wheel machines sow 4-5 acres each a day and two persons are sufficient for it — one for running the machine and other to supply nursery for feeding in the machine. Four-wheeled ride on can sow 8-10 acres in a day,” said Agricultural Engineering Manmohan Kalia, nodal officer, Farm Machinery, Punjab, and joint director (officiating), Agriculture Engineering.

Farmer’s verdict

Farmer Major Singh Bajwa of Bajwa Kalan village under Shahkot sub-division of Jalandhar district, who has done mechanical transplantation on his 60 acres field this time, said he had purchased a transplanter last year and the results were good, so he has increased the area this year.

“With this machine, I am tension-free as it saves huge labour cost too,” he said, adding that training nursery is a little labour-intensive and technical but one needs to get used to it.

“I and my fellow farmer Rajinder Singh had developed a seedler for nursery growing for this method and it will make nursery growing simple,” he said, adding that a trial was done this time but from next time it will be fully functional.

Sukhjit Singh Diwala of Diwala village in Ludhiana has sown his 36 acres with a walk-behind machine this year and also provided his machine on rent. He raised a nursery for fellow farmers of his village and did mechanical transplanting on 100 acres in his village including his own fields.

“Finding labour was becoming difficult. I purchased a translator last year o experiment on my own field and it was so successful that I got 4-5 quintals more yield because of increasing of a number of plants in the fields with this method,” said he, adding that to sort the nursery raising method, Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, had invented a new machine to grow nursery for paddy transplanters and it ill come in the market from next season.

This machine will sow nursery for 100 acres in a 3-4 days with the help of two persons while currently, it takes 20 days for seven persons to raise nursery for 100 acres.

In Punjab, 27-30 lakh hectares area is under paddy crop including Basmati, for which around 6 to 6.5 lakh migrant labourers are required to transplant paddy nursery in the fields for 40-50 days. Punjab needs around 20,000 paddy transplanters to cover the entire area excluding DSR area. And with an increased number of machines, the rental rates of these machines would also come down for small and marginal farmers.

Manual versus mechanical transplanting

Under mechanical technique, a nursery is raised on polythene sheets, each 20 feet long and 22 inches wide with a 1 inch layer of soil. As 80 feet long and 22 inches wide area is required to grow paddy for one acre. Around 7-8 kg seed is required for one acre and after sowing, it is covered with dry, fine earth. After proper watering, nursery gets ready in 25-30 days depending on the varieties of rice and is transplanted in puddle fields with the transplanter machine. The nursery is fed into machine-like cakes in 22×11 inches pieces, which carries hundreds of plants, and machine transplants the same ensuring appropriate space between the plants and the rows. It takes around one and half hours to sow one acre. Using this method, around 33 plants are sown per sq. meters. Because of the specified distance from plant to plant and between rows, the airing is proper in the field and such fields are less prone to fungal and blight diseases. If a farmer owns this machine, the total cost of paddy sowing will come to around Rs 3,500-4,000 which includes preparation of nursery, diesel cost, preparation of field, which needs tilling and puddling before transplanting seeds.

In manual transplanting, the per acre costs comes to Rs 8,000-9,000. As the expenses up to puddling are same i.e. Rs 2,000 per acre, while the cost of nursery growing is up to Rs 800-1,000 and labour cost is Rs 5,000-6,000 per acre. With this method, only 3 kg seed is required per acre because in manual transplanting, only 22-25 plants are sown per sq. mt by the labour.

What is the cost of mechanical transplanting for farmers who have to rent it?

Currently, there are only 1,000 machines and farmers who go for mechanical sowing hire it from fellow farmers who own them.

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