Amid reports that paddy sown with Direct Seeding of Rice (DSR) technique has been attacked by rodents and farmers are facing big challenges in Punjab, some argue that sowing technique involving transplantation of seedlings in flooded fields insulates the crop from such attacks. Others believe that government must revive an old policy to control rodent attacks.
The Indian Express explains the challenge faced by farmers and the methods to control the menace.
Which crops are mostly damaged by rodents?
According to experts, rodents threaten every crop in the state including rice sown with the usual flooding method. In Punjab, mostly paddy is grown by transplanting paddy seedlings in flooded fields. While rats do not survive in flooding, but the crop is vulnerable to attacks close to harvesting as rodent attack the roots, said experts.
Barring paddy all crops in Punjab are sown in moist fields just like DSR sowing, which needs irrigation around the third week of sowing. So DSR as a technique cannot be blamed for making the crop vulnerable to rodent attacks.
Experts said, “If the rodent control campaign would have been launched this time before paddy sowing with DSR, then the damage, which was reported from some places to the young plants of paddy could have been stopped.”
What is the damage percentage of the crops?
Dr. Neena Singla, Principal Zoologist, Rodents, and Head of the Zoology Department, Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, said that in Punjab on an average 2 to 15 per cent damage is caused to every crop in Kharif and Rabi season by rodents. Even in case of Sugarcane, we have seen damage up to 25 per cent. They are a danger to every crop, including wheat, paddy, pulses, vegetables, melons etc.
Is the problem of rodents serious in Punjab?
Yes. If it is not controlled periodically then the population would increase manifold. They breed in vacant fields very fast after harvesting of any crop, especially where stubble remains in the fields. Rodents give birth after three weeks and litter 5 to 10 pups but sometimes they litter even more pups and can reproduce up to 10 times or more per year. According to domain experts, they have surprising reproductive capabilities and 4-8 weeks old mice are fully mature for reproduction. They added that if they see that grains are enough to survive they produce a large number of off-springs and if there is a shortage of grain then they produce in a controlled manner. They have several species including the blind rats.
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How can it be controlled?
There are two methods. To keep the pesticides load down, first is the natural and integrated management technique method. There are natural predators of rats which included snakes, owls, mongoose, cats etc that eat rats as an owl can eat 3-4 rats in one night. And these should not be killed they are friendly birds, mammals, and reptiles. Also, the bundh (raised earthen boundaries) on the sides of the fields house several rats as they make their burrows here. Farmers should dismantle them time to time to restructure the new ones which should be less raised and narrow, explained experts. Weeds and grasses must also be cleared from around the fields as they help in breeding of rodents. The second method is to the usage of rodenticides.’
Which rodenticide should be used?
Zink Phosphoide and Bromadiolone are the most effective rodenticides to control the rodents. Both are government-controlled medicines and cannot be sold in open. Also, these are not very costly as the government can supply these to the farmers easily and even farmers can bear its cost which would cost him Rs 30 to 35 per hectare.
What was the old government policy to arrest rodents attack?
Till 15 years back, the Agriculture Department of Punjab used to get the funds from the Planning Board for arresting this menace. And a rodent control campaign used to be run twice a year before sowing of Kharif and Rabi crops. But now there is no regular campaign across the state as the farmers and Agriculture Department officials deal with the problem at their own level.
“Under that policy, we used to ask farmers entire village to bring around one kg boiled wheat/cracked wheat grain or porridge, which would then be marinated in Heeng (Asafoetida) water and sugar power. This mixture would be taken to a common place in the village put in a large utensil by the department officials and then Zink Phosphoid and mustard oil added at the rate of 25 gm and 20 gm per kg grain, respectively and then the same grain handed over to the farmers in same quantity which they had brought,” said Chief Agriculture Officer (CAO), Faridkot, Dr Harnek Singh Rode, who had launched rodent control in their district where paddy with DSR technique was sown. The same method is applied to the other rodenticide. One kg rodenticide laced grains are sufficient for one hectare of the area as 100 doses in the small paper are made from it.
What is the method of using rodenticides for killing rodents?
“Farmers are asked to identify borrows in their respective fields and then they are asked to fill them with earth so that the next day if the earth is found removed over the ground, it would be an indication that the rodents were there and then farmers will place one such dose in paper inside each borrow and then cover it with earth again. When the rat will enter the burrow again, it will get attracted to the grain and eat it and get killed in 24 hours,” said Dr. Neena, adding that the dose of Zink Phosphoide cannot be repeated for two months while the dose of Bromadiolone can be repeated after 15 days. Director, Agriculture Department, Punjab, Dr Sutantar Kumar Airi said that such doses must be kept at a dry place, and to wipe out the rodent menace, this action must be done on a single day at the same time in the entire village. “If a portion of a side of the village is left then rodents will get alerted and they will not venture in such fields for some time where the medicine is kept and will return with huge population after a gap of the period and attack the crop and damage it,” he explained, adding that they bite any type of the crop because their incisors (front teeth) grow continuously and biting is the best method for them to keep their size under control.
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