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Friday, October 23, 2020

Punjab: Behind low yield of high-yield Basmati variety, early sowing

PUSA Basmati 1509, which was introduced over 7-8 years ago in Punjab has become quite popular among farmers because unlike other Basmati varieties, the yield of this variety was much higher. In Punjab, farmers usually get 23 to 26 quintals per acre yield from this variety.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Chandigarh | Updated: September 27, 2020 10:49:29 am
Basmati Paddy arrived at Khanna Mandi (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)

With harvesting of the PUSA 1509 Basmati (fine quality aromatic rice) — an early variety which is a favourite among farmers because of its short duration and high yield — having begun, a large number of farmers are complaining of low yield. The reason: they suspect it is hot weather. However, temperatures this year have more or less remained the same as it is every year during its cropping season. So what else could be the problem? Is it really hot weather? The Indian Express explains:

What is the average yield of Basmati 1509?

PUSA Basmati 1509, which was introduced over 7-8 years ago in Punjab has become quite popular among farmers because unlike other Basmati varieties, the yield of this variety was much higher. In Punjab, farmers usually get 23 to 26 quintals per acre yield from this variety.

What is the yield this year?

Most of the farmers sitting in the grain markets of Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts, the hubs for this variety, say they got just between 8 to 14 quintals this time. “We are shocked because farmers are bringing this crop to the mandi every day and complaining about low yield of just 12-13 quintals per acre against 23-24 quintals they used to,” said Vijay Kalra, president of Federation Arhtiya Association Punjab, adding that not a single farmer who got full yield from this crop this time has approached him till now.

Also, the rate of this variety has crashed from Rs 2,500-2700 per quintal last year to Rs 2,000-1,650. “With this yield and low price they will not fetch more than Rs 22,000-25,000 per acre against Rs 62,000-66,000 per acre last year,” said Kalra.

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Why the yield has gone down this year?

While farmers are blaming it on hot weather conditions, experts are blaming the “wrong timing of sowing” by a large number of farmers. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the weather has remained more and less the same as compared to last year.

Experts say PUSA 1509 has the advantage of maturing in 115-120 days from the date of nursery sowing to harvesting, and farmers can transplant it from June 15 to July 25. If they want to take matar (pea) in September and potato in October for harvesting by late-November/early-December, which still gives time for sowing a late variety of wheat, winter maize or ajwain (celery). They should plant it after June 15 so as to harvest between mid-September and early-October.

If they want to go for normal wheat crop after it, they can transplant it between July 20 to 25.

Amritsar Chief Agriculture Officer (CAO) Dr Gurdial Singh Bal said that due to Covid-19, several farmers had sown the crop early, in May-end and early June, due to which not only yield, even the quality has also gone down. “When paddy sowing time was June 10, how can Basmati, which is always sown 10-15 days after paddy, be sown before? Also, we have observed that farmers who have sown it after June 10 are getting around 20 quintals per acre, while those who sowed in May and early June are getting 30-40 per cent less yield and facing losses due to low yield and less price too,” he added.

Labourers thrashing Basmati Paddy in the field at a village near Kharar in District SAS Nagar 

Tarn Taran CAO Dr Kuljit Singh Saini said, “Due to early sowing, the graining stage also came early, when the days were still long, while Basmati varieties need longer nights, which are less warm than days. Due to this, the grains could not be developed properly. We always guide farmers about proper sowing time as per variety of the crop but sometimes they do not adhere to our advice and face losses.”

Dr Bal said, “It is basically a late variety of Basmati but farmers in Punjab have made it early so as to take vegetables and winter maize/late wheat variety crops after sowing it in June.”

What other varieties of Basmati are sown in Punjab?

While PUSA 1509 is sown on 40 per cent of the total Basmati area in Punjab, the remaining area comes under PUSA 1121, the improved basmati variety that till recently accounted for maximum of India’s exports of the aromatic rice since 2008 and fetched the highest price among all Basmati varieties. But now, PUSA 1718, another new basmati variety by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi, is also being sown in Punjab.

While PUSA 1121 is longer-duration basmati (140-145 days, nursery period to harvesting), which, if transplanted from June 10 to July-end, is harvested by October-end and mid-November. It only leaves scope for sowing wheat and yield is 18-20 quintals per acre.

PUSA 1718 is 10 days shorter than 1121, more disease-resistant and does not need too much pesticide. Farmers claim that they are taking a yield of 25-26 quintals/acre of 1718 and the grain quality and aroma is similar to PUSA 1121.

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