26.3 quintals an acre or 6.5 tonnes per hectare. That’s what Bahadur Singh Jaria has harvested from 10 out of his 30 acres land planted to wheat in the recent 2017-18 rabi season. It is being described as the first time a farmer in Punjab — possibly India as well — has broken the 6.5 tonnes/hectare yield barrier in wheat; the previous highest was 6.456 tonnes recorded by a Sangrur farmer in 2013-14.
Jaria attributes his record-breaking yield to HD-2967, a blockbuster wheat variety bred by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and released for commercial cultivation in 2011-12. The 30-year-old’s obsession with the variety can be seen from his mobile phone number, whose last four digits are 2967. His wife, a first cousin, and nine other family members, too, have numbers that end with 2967.
“The weather this time was excellent throughout the season till mid-March, when it suddenly turned warm for a week or so. Had the temperatures remained moderate, my yields would probably have touched 27 quintals per acre,” claims this farmer from Dharamgarh village in Amloh tehsil of Fatehgarh Sahib district.
Jaria’s isn’t an isolated story, though. The results from the crop cutting experiments across Punjab so far show average wheat yields in the state for 2017-18 at 51.20 quintals per hectare. “This is an all-time-high, surpassing the 50.97 quintals of 2011-12. That year, we achieved a record 179.77 lakh tonnes (lt) production on an area of 35.27 lakh hectares (lh). This time, our output may reach that level or even 180 lt, but with area of just 34.80 lh,” states Jasbir Singh Bains, director of agriculture, Punjab.
To give a perspective, Punjab’s average wheat yield in 1980-81 was 27.3 quintals per hectare, which rose to 37.15 quintals in 1990-91 and 45.63 quintals in 2000-01. Its crossing 51 quintals now is proof that the Green Revolution’s gains still plateau off, contrary to popular perception.
Like in previous years, this time’s highest yields based on crop cutting experiment results have been recorded at Sangrur district (at 55.69 quintals per hectare, against 54.94 quintals in 2011-12). The corresponding yield numbers have been 54.54 quintals for Fatehgarh Sahib (it was 52.85 quintals in 2011-12), 53.70 quintals for Bathinda (50 quintals) and 53.64 quintals in Barnala (53.46 quintals).
Jaria attributes Punjab’s and his own rising wheat yields to two main factors. The first is varietal development. HD-2967 till a couple of years ago was covering over 70 per cent of the state’s total wheat area. Even today — despite the introduction of other new varieties, including HD-3086 from IARI — this variety continues to account for more than half of Punjab’s wheat acreage.
The second factor is his practice of not burning the stubble from his paddy crop, which is combine-harvested. “I have not done it for the past three years. Earlier, I was getting an average yield of 21-22 quintals per acre. It started rising in the last couple of years to 23-24 quintals and now to over 26 quintals. This has come from incorporating the uncut paddy straw back into the soil, as opposed to burning it, and also more precise application of fertiliser and pesticides,” he points out.
Jaria says that he plants only 75-80 kg of seed per hectare, as opposed to the normally recommended rate of one quintal. With more seed-to-seed spacing, there is better ventilation and plant tillering. “Most farmers in Punjab blindly apply around 80 kg of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and 150 kg of urea per acre. I use 50 kg of DAP, 50 kg of single super phosphate and only 100 kg of urea (30 kg at sowing time, 40 kg about 15 days after planting and the remaining 30 kg a month or so later). I also spray herbicides just once and, that too, using manual spray pump and not power pump, which does not cover the areas with weeds fully,” he informs.
Jaria recommends laser-levelling of fields every three years, which not only helps save up to 25 per cent water, but also ensures more uniform availability of nutrients for the crop. He further practices furrow-irrigated raised bed cultivation. Under this system, the seeds are planted on raised beds and water and nutrients given through the furrows, leading again to significant savings.
Jaria is basically a seed farmer. The wheat and paddy that he grows on 30 acres of his own and another 30 acres of leased land is sold mostly as seed. “I also do contract seed cultivation on 200 acres through other farmers. They produce seed for me and which I buy by paying Rs 100 per quintal over the government’s minimum support price,” he adds.
Jaria does not subscribe to the view of agriculture being a losing proposition. “Yes, the profit margins may be less nowadays, but the farmer should learn to go in for precision agriculture and cut down a lot of unnecessary expenditures. I believe that the production cost can be kept within Rs 7,000 per acre for wheat and Rs 11,000 for paddy. At 25 quintals and 30-32 quintals per acre yields, and the current MSPs of Rs 1,735/quintal for wheat and Rs 1,590/quintal for paddy, you can do the math yourself,” he says. Now, that is a really optimistic 30-year-old farmer.