Even as concern over declining water table and over exploitation of water in Punjab for paddy continues to grow, some farmers in the state are adopting innovative techniques to save water.
Avtar Singh, a farmer based in Pandwa village in Phagwara has inter-cropped cotton crop with cucumbers and is practicing capillary action irrigation which also helps in conserving water. Last year, he had inter cropped cotton with maize which, he claims, doubled the yield.
He irrigates his fields after every two weeks, helping him save a lot of water which would otherwise have been used to flood the land.
“Cotton is deep rooted and a long duration crop. It does not need much water but Punjab farmers are in habit of flooding fields,” he said. “Judicious use of water never came to them naturally. We have inter cropped cotton with cucumber. We are not directly irrigating cotton but instead, focussing on cucumber. The water that seeps into the soil also reaches the cotton crop. Also, through bed plantation, more water is saved.”
Last year, he harvested 15quintal per acre of cotton compared to the 8 quintal per acre that most other farmers, who used conventional methods, got.
“This year picking would be even better. I have adopted concept of bio-diversity in agriculture. Farmers need to go the way nature wants and monoculture (growing single crop) is nowhere in nature. I have noticed that cotton balls are thicker if grown like this. Growing cucumber has also controlled pests and no whitefly or bollworms have infected my crop,” he added.
Paramjit Singh Gill from village Chungawan of Moga cultivated red garlic, a crop that is not familiar to Punjab, and has reaped profit of Rs 1 lakh per acre. Gill said, “I got this variety from Jammu and Kashmir and is grown mostly in hilly areas. Punjab farmers are unaware of any garlic except white ones. This variety gives dark pinkish fruit commonly known as red garlic in J&K. Compared to Rs 25,000 per acre saved in paddy/wheat cultivation, I am saving Rs 1 lakh/acre.”
Another farmer, Sukhvir Singh from village Sampla in Fatehgarh Sahib has grown onions on seven acres, muskmelon on five acres, tomatoes on two acres, chillies on two acres and pumpkin (used for sweets) on one acre. “It was always a risky decision to give up paddy farming but now my farm is giving me Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh profit.”
Swaran Singh Mann, assistant director horticulture said, “It is always advisable to grow two or more crops together. Farmers are now opting for strawberries, papaya, guavas, peaches etc which consume less water than paddy.”
Dr SS Kukal, additional director research (natural resources and plant health management), Punjab Agricultural University, said, “It is absolutely right that inter-cropping cotton with vegetables is best way for natural farming and saving water. With capillary action, water that seeps inside soil will come up and replenish soil. Cotton will not need separate irrigation. It saves almost 90% water and higher yield.”