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Explained: With trains suspended, what happens if Punjab fields don’t get urea on time?

In Punjab, 26 to 27 lakh tonnes of urea, including 13.50 lakh tonnes in the Rabi season, is used on 42 lakh hectares of agricultural and horticultural crops.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba , Edited by Explained Desk | Jalandhar | Updated: November 19, 2020 7:43:20 am
Punjab rail blockade, Punjab goods trains suspended, Punjab urea shortage, urea Pujab crops, Punjab farmers protest, indian express, express explainedPunjab is facing a shortage of 4 lakh tonnes of urea needed in November for Rabi crops, mainly wheat. (Express photo for representation)

With movement of goods trains suspended, Punjab’s fields are waiting for a crucial fertiliser, urea. The state is facing a shortage of around 8 lakh tonnes of urea, including 4 lakh tonnes needed in November for Rabi crops, mainly wheat, which is grown over 35 lakh hectares.

What will happen to crops if they don’t get urea on time, or not at all? And what other options will farmers have? The Indian Express explains:

Why and when is urea used on crops?

Urea provides nitrogen to crop, which enhances productivity. It is required around 30 days after sowing of wheat, potato, etc. It is applied with the first irrigation of wheat, which is normally done after 30 days of sowing. Urea dissolves in properly irrigated or moist fields only –– ureaotherwise, it diffuses in the air.

Also, even in moist fields, only 40% urea remains in the field, and the rest evaporates. Normally, three doses of 45 Kg each are applied on wheat between 30 to 60 days of sowing. So the crop sown in October end and early November would need it by the end of this month.

Also in Explained | The Railways network in Punjab, and how it has been impacted by the ongoing protests

What will happen if the application is delayed, or missed?

According to Dr. Baldev Singh, Joint Director Fertilisers, Punjab Agriculture department, if the first dose is delayed by 10-15 days, the yield will be affected by 10-15%. If there is no application of urea due to its non-supply, the yield may go down by 35 to 40%.

Experts said that Punjab has already been overusing urea, and crops can take some of it from the air –– which contains nearly 79% nitrogen –– through moderate rains. But the stage at which the crops get the urea is also crucial to yield.

In Punjab, 26 to 27 lakh tonnes of urea, including 13.50 lakh tonnes in the Rabi season, is used on 42 lakh hectares of agricultural and horticultural crops.

Organic farming expert Dr. CS Aulakh, school of organic farming Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) Ludhiana, said that crops like pulses can take nitrogen from the air thanks to bacteria in the nodules in their root system, but cereal crops’ root system does not have such nodules, and in Punjab, cereals are the major crops. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What are the options available to the farmers if urea doesn’t reach on time?

Water soluble chemical sprays are an option, but even these are not available in the required quantity in Punjab.

Organic farming is the other option, which needs neither urea nor di-ammonium phosphate (DAP).

Farmer Amarjit Singh from Char-Ke village in Bhogpur (Jalandhar), who has been practising organic farming for over a decade now, said that in place of urea, he uses 60 kg  mustard oil cake (Sarson Khal) per acre in two doses of 30 kg each, costing around Rs 1,200.

And to give further nutrition to the crop, dung cakes can be mixed in water and sprayed close to the roots of the plants. This costs almost nothing, as cow dung cakes are available with every farmer in Punjab. Cow dung cake contains Gibberellic acid, which is very good for plant growth and enhances photosynthesis.

Amarjit said: “Yield in organic farming is around 35 to 40% less against chemical farming, but then I sell chemical-free wheat at Rs 5,000 per quintal, while common farmers sell at a MSP of Rs 1,925 per quintal.”

“There is great demand for it and people from Punjab are procuring chemical-free wheat from MP,” he said. “Also, if the Centre is not thinking about Punjab’s farmers, they should think about themselves and choose options like organic farming, where they can grow diverse crops and get better price for them.”

Is it possible to go for organic farming on a huge 35 lakh hectares of wheat crop?

“Necessity is the mother of invention and this opportunity must be availed by the farmers. Also, the Centre must procure such crop at a premium price because it is good for the health of the nation, which needs chemical-free food products. The Centre itself has been promoting organic farming as well as ‘Zero Budget natural farming’,” said Devinder Sharma, Agriculture and food expert.

He said that even Punjab has been promoting ‘chemical free’ Basmati for the past couple of years, following the rejection of Basmati containers by European countries because of pesticide residue.

Experts from Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export development Authority’ (APEDA) also promote chemical free basmati and paddy in Punjab. Farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal in one of his social media posts has told farmers the Centre now does not need bulk grain from Punjab, and so farmers can gradually turn towards organic farming despite its lesser yield.

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