While procuring around 13 million tonnes (130 lakh metric tonnes) of wheat amid coronavirus outbreak poses a significant challenge for Punjab, the state seems less worried about harvesting the standing crop in the coming days. Thanks to the mechanised harvesting in the state, which owns over 17,000 combine harvesters, 90 per cent wheat here is cut mechanically without the use of much labour in the fields.
Farm organisations, however, suggest that the government should have advanced the wheat harvesting date from April 10-11 instead April 14-15 so as to avoid glut in the grain markets.
Usually, wheat harvesting in Punjab begins in the first week of April in certain pockets every year. But this time due to rain in the month of March, the harvesting got delayed by a week to 10 days.
In Punjab this year, 35.05 lakh hectares ( 86.57 lakh acres) area is under wheat production and the state is expecting to produce around 17 million tonnes out of which around 13 million tonnes is expected to reach the purchase centres.
Out of nearly 17,000 combines, around 4000 to 5000 have gone to other states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar etc. where the harvesting of wheat started in the month of March. Remaining around 11,000 to 12,000 combines are currently in Punjab.
“In Punjab, there are around 17,000 combine harvesters out of which nearly 25 per cent have gone to harvest wheat in other states where the harvesting is almost over and now these machines will head back to Punjab and would reach back here by April14-15,” said Baldev Singh Amar, The chairman of All India Agriculture Mechanical Machinery Association (AMMA) Farm Implement Association, adding that the peak harvesting season will start in Punjab between April 15 to 20 and by that time all machines will be back in state. Also in Punjab, harvesting first starts in Malwa region followed by Doaba and then Majha region, he revealed, adding that Centre has allowed hassle-free movement of the combines to make harvesting smooth.
According to Amar, 95 per cent harvesting in Punjab is mechanical which makes social distancing during these operations a given.
Jagdeep Singh, a farmer and combine owner from Kanoi village in Sangrur district, said that a combine operation needs just 3-4 persons including a driver, a co-driver, a foreman, who takes care of any mechanical fault in the running machine, and one labourer.
“These four persons are already working at a distance from each other during the operation and now we have made them aware that after the operation also they need to maintain the distance while eating or moving to other places in the combine,” he said. Punjab is the only manufacturer of the combine harvesters in the country and every year 5,000 to 7,000 combines are manufactured here out of which 40 per cent are being purchased by the other states.
He added: “Most combine operators are Punjabis. But we need outside labour only to make fodder from wheat stubble after harvesting. For making fodder farmers, we need to run a reaper machine which needs 7-9 labourers, including a driver.”
“…. Mostly these machines run simultaneously with the combines,” said farmer Dharminder Singh from Ugrahan village in Sangrur district. He added that the state had ready availability of labour for these operations.
However, Director, Punjab Agriculture Department, Dr. Sutantra Kumar Airy, pointed out: “There is not worry about harvesting because it does not need many people, but we have decided to run the reaper machines a little later not simultaneously so that combine machine and reaper machine labour is not working together in the fields.”
The Indian Express spoke to Gurdeep Singh, a combine owner from Changal village in Punjab’s Sangrur district who had gone to Harda in Madhya Pradesh (MP) on February 15 with two combine- harvesters. He said: “I have already completed harvesting here and am about to start back for Punjab on April 10. I would be back by April 14 or 15. I already have several bookings in my village and around.”
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