After HD-2967 and HD-3086, which together occupy roughly 40% of the country’s total wheat area, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has released yet another potential blockbuster variety for planting in the upcoming rabi crop season.
Called HD-3226 or Pusa Yashasvi, the new variety has recorded a weighted average yield of 57.5 quintals per hectare in coordinated trials at 56 locations over three years of testing (2015-16 to 2017-18). This is comparable to or higher than the mean yields for HD-3086, HD-2967 and other “check” varieties. The genetic yield potential, at 79.6 quintals, is even more compared to other varieties (see table). HD-3326 also has higher content of protein and gluten (which contributes to strength and elasticity of the dough), apart from more zinc (at 36.8 parts per million, as against 34.8 for HD-3086 and 36 for HD-2967) and good chapatti, bread and biscuit quality.
No less significant is HD-3326’s high levels of resistance against all major rust fungi — yellow/stripe, brown/leaf and black/stem. PBW-343, the workhorse wheat variety that the Punjab Agricultural University introduced in 1995, was being grown in nearly 10 million hectares (mh) across India till the last decade. But its vulnerability to yellow and brown rust, causing significant yield losses, became apparent from around 2007. With the release of HD-2967 (Pusa Borlaug) in 2011-12 and Pusa-3086 (Pusa Gautami) in 2013-14, PBW-343 practically receded into the background.
HD-2967 took hardly five years to reach 10 mh, beating all records for a single variety or hybrid of any crop to cover such a large area in as short a time. The combined area under the two varieties is currently estimated at 12 mh, which is 40% of India’s total annual wheat acreage of 30 mh.
“HD-2967, too, has now become susceptible to yellow rust, while HD-3086 is starting to show susceptibility to brown rust. The new variety is highly resistant to all rusts and Karnal bunt, besides other fungal pathogen diseases such as flag smut, powdery mildew and foot rot,” says Rajbir Yadav, principal scientist at IARI and the main breeder of HD-3326.
HD-3326’s other big draw is its amenability to “conservation agriculture”. While this variety’s normal sowing time is from November 1, farmers can plant it even 7-10 days before, immediately after harvesting paddy. They could use a Happy Seeder to directly drill the wheat seeds in the field, without any ploughing or burning the leftover paddy stubble and loose straw. “This isn’t possible with HD-2967 or HD-3086, where the crop tends to prematurely flower if you sow by October 25. The earheads (containing the flowers) would emerge from the tillers (the side stems that grow from initial parent shoot) much earlier than desired. In HD-3226, there is no such problem of the plant’s vegetative growth being compromised due to early sowing. Instead, it will grow to its full maturity duration of 150 days and is ready for harvesting by end-March/early-April, 10-15 days before other wheat varieties,” explains Yadav.
“Being able to sow in late-October is definitely an advantage in these times, when temperatures are starting to shoot up by mid-March itself, impacting grain-filling. HD-3226 is also ideal for zero-tillage planting, while not prone to yellow rust attack,” points out Pritam Singh Hanjra, a progressive farmer from Urlana Khurd village in Madlauda tehsil of Haryana’s Panipat district. He is among the few who were supplied seeds of the variety to grow on a trial basis in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 rabi seasons.
For the coming season, IARI has made available 200 quintals of seed, which will go entirely for multiplication. “We have given one quintal each to 40 seed companies and the rest in 5-kg packets to individual farmers. They will do further multiplication that will enable HD-3226’s widespread cultivation similar to HD-2967 and HD-3086,” informs A.K. Singh, head of IARI’s Division of Genetics.