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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In Kapurthala’s villages, farmers say doing away with fire has improved yield

The alternative stubble management technique they employ isn't prohibitively expensive, and the farmers say their yields of wheat have improved.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Updated: October 28, 2020 10:58:59 am
Nihal Singh, who grows potato after harvesting paddy, says he has stopped setting his field on fire. (Express Photo)

For the third year in a row, Gurjeet Singh and Gurjinder Singh, two small farmers in Allahditta village of Kapurthala district’s Sultanpur Lodhi subdivision, have not burnt any parali (paddy stubble) in their fields.

The alternative stubble management technique they employ isn’t prohibitively expensive, and the farmers say their yields of wheat have improved. In fact, Allahditta and the neighbouring village of Ahmadpur Chhanna have reported no farm fires this stubble-burning season.

Gurjeet (50), said he manages the stubble on his five acres by first harvesting his (kharif) paddy with a combine harvester equipped with a ‘Super SMS’ (straw management system) that cuts the stubble in half and scatters it on the field, and then sowing (rabi) wheat using a ‘happy seeder’ machine.

He also rents a mulcher machine and a rotavator that mixes the stubble with the soil, before sowing wheat with a zero till drill machine. The whole process is quite simple, said Gurjeet, who hires the machines from a cooperative society in the neighbouring Mothanwala village for a small price.

“The only major expense is on diesel because all these machines are tractor-mounted,” he said. It costs him between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000 to manage every acre of stubble.

Gurjinder, who owns six acres of land in the same village, said: “After facing a little trouble in the first year, I am now getting a very good yield of wheat, much better than when I would burn my fields.”

Indeed, until five years ago, most farmers in Allahditta and Ahmadpur Chhanna used to set their stubble on fire. But after the National Green Tribunal directed the Punjab government to stop the burning of stubble, they decided to purchase machines to manage the stubble, said Shingara Singh, the husband of Sukhwinder Kaur, sarpanch of Ahmadpur Chhanna.

Big farmers such as Shingara and his brothers, who grow paddy and potato on 300 acres, took the lead in buying the machines. Once it became easy to hire this machinery, even small farmers began to use them – and increasingly fewer fields were set on fire.

“There has not been a single incident (of stubble burning) in our village and in Allahditta for the past three years,” Shingara said.

According to Shingara, the better yields that came with the adoption of stubble management acted as a powerful incentive. Said Gurjeet of Allahditta: “My wheat crop has started giving me higher yields since I started ploughing the stubble back in the fields. Besides, who doesn’t like clean air?”

Even farmers like Nihal Singh (30) of Ahmadpur Chhanna, who grows potato after harvesting paddy, have stopped setting their fields on fire – even though unlike wheat, potato cannot be sown in standing stubble.

“Although we are in a tearing hurry to clear the fields as potato is sown 15-30 days before wheat, we don’t burn the stubble, we use machines because we are proud of the fact that our village does not indulge in this practice,” Nihal said.

Records of the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, Ludhiana, show no farmer in these two villages in Sultanpur Lodhi subdivision has set a single field on fire this year. This is a far cry from the rest of Punjab, which had recorded 12,985 farm fires until October 24 – more than double the number (5,461) of fires between September 21 and October 24 last year.

Both Ahmadpur Chhanna and Allahditta have almost 100 per cent paddy sowing in the kharif season over 3,000 acres. They grow short and early varieties PR 126, PR 127, and PR 121, which are harvested by the beginning of October, following which they cultivate potato.

Around 80 per cent of farmers in these villages have already managed their stubble this year, and potato cultivation is in full swing. “Despite the fact that we grow potato rafter paddy, not a single potato farmer has burnt stubble during this and the last couple of seasons,” said Gurdeep Singh, another farmer from Allahditta, who sows paddy on 85 acres.

“It is better for us, and for our fields. I feel more comfortable doing stubble management than burning the stubble,” he said.

Agriculture Development Officer, Sultanpur Lodhi, Dr Jaspal Singh confirmed there had been no farm fires in Ahmadpur Chhanna and Allahditta this year. “When they have already gone for sowing the next crop, there is no question of burning crop residue here,” Dr Singh said, adding that efforts were on to bring down the incidence of farm fires in the entire subdivision.

“Here, even small farmers do not burn stubble; it has become a trend. The farmers are highly sensitised and our cooperative societies are providing machines at a very reasonable rate,” he said.

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