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Thursday, December 03, 2020

High on tractors, Punjab doesn’t have many machines high on horsepower

High cost of hiring big tractors to manage stubble hits Punjab’s efforts to keep farm fires in check; On Monday, 3,590 fires were recorded across the state

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | November 4, 2020 1:27:05 pm
High on tractors, Punjab doesn’t have many machines high on horsepowerA farmer prepares to plough his field after burning the stubble in Patiala Monday. (Express photo by Harmeet Sodhi)

While Punjab has got the highest number of stubble management machines (around 74,000) this season coupled with a government policy of providing them to small and marginal farmers at nominal rent, still the state has seen stubble burning incidents surge past last year’s figure. Till November 2, the state recorded 39,168 stubble fires against 27,582 last year till the same date. The reason is a crucial gap in the stubble management process that the farmers says government failed to factor in its policy.

While the count of stubble management machines stands at around 74,000 in the state, the problem that the farmers face is high rent of tractors that they must hire to mount them for operation. All stubble management machines are tractor mounted. While the state owns 5 to 5.25 lakh tractors, 60 per cent of these tractors cannot run machines likes Happy Seeder, Super Seeder, Mulcuher etc. This is because these tractors are of lower horsepower (HP) – between 35 to 40 – while stubble management machines require tractors with 50 to 60 HP.

So, despite owning a tractor majority farmers have to hire a tractor to run these machines and this is what discourages them because the hiring charges of a tractor have not been lowered like that of stubble management machines.

This is the reason that despite owning 8 per cent of the country’s total number of tractors against just 1.53 per cent of its total land, Punjab is struggling to put its stubble management machines to effective use.

“Around 19,000 custom hiring centers have been opened across the state by the government so that farmers can rent out these machines at their respective villages but now farmers are finding a lacuna in this scheme and all small, marginal, semi-medium and even medium farmers are finding it a costly affair to hire big tractors,” said a senior officer in the Punjab Agriculture Department.

A Jalandhar farmer said: “I went to hire these machines from the custom hiring centre of my village and the hiring rates were not more than Rs 200 to Rs 500 per acre and I could easily afford these, but the tractor charges were around Rs 1,200 to 1,500 per acre. So, I decided to burn the stubble on all my 7 acres of land.” He added that though he was fined for burning stubble, but this fine was not even half of what he was required to spend on the stubble management.

“I have a 35 HP tractor, but it cannot run Super Seeder,” he further explained, adding that there are a large number of farmers in his area who own tractors but they are not capable of running these machines and even if their tractors run some of these machines even then several rounds of the field are required before sowing the next crop and it proves a costly affair.

According to government’s policy, the hiring charges of stubble management machines are Rs 200 for an hour for Happy Seeder and RMB Plough 2 Bottom, for RMB Plough 3 Bottom it is Rs 300, shrub master is rented out at Rs 100, mulcher at Rs 200, Zero Till Drill at Rs 100, rotavator at Rs 100 and Super Seeder at Rs 400 to 500. However, with a tractor the rates of these stubble management machines vary between Rs 1,300 per hour to Rs 1,600-2,000 per hour.

“We are even ready to provide free machines to the farmers if they bear the diesel cost of the tractors and wear and tear expenses of the machines,” said Satnam Singh, owner of one such custom hiring centre at village Rajjian in Amritsar, adding that if the small tractors were able to run these machines then the demand for these machines would have been manifold because several farmers were interested in hiring these this time due to the nominal hiring rates.

According to the Punjab Agriculture Department, the total number of tractors in Punjab is between 5 lakh to 5.25 lakh out of which nearly 30 per cent to 35 per cent are owned by nearly 5 per cent big farmers of the state and remaining 65 per cent to 70 per cent are owned by the medium, semi-medium and at even by some small farmers but around 60 per cent of these tractors are either up to 40 HP or less than that and now several medium and big farmers are replacing their small tractors with the big one.

To run such machines minimum 50 HP to 60 HP tractor is required, said Nihal Singh, a big farmer from Sultanpur Lodhi, adding that he manages stubble on 300 acres of land and owns three big tractors to run stubble management machines.

Baldev Singh Amar, chairman of All India Agriculture Mechanical Machinery Association (AMMA), said that following the availability of stubble management machinery in Punjab, most of the farmers are replacing their small tractors between 30 to 40 HP with 50 HP and above tractors which cost between Rs 6 to 10 lakh. But still the number of small tractors is more in Punjab, he added.

Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda), General Secretary, Jagmohan Singh, said that it is not viable for small, marginal and semi-medium farmers to spend Rs 2,000 to 3,000 per acre for managing stubble as already farmers are not getting the full price of their crops as set by the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP).

On Monday, 3,590 stubble burning cases were recorded across the state with maximum single-day fires in Sangrur district where 696 cases were recorded.

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