A sweet change is gradually entering the farms of Bathinda. Farmers are commercially testing a crop they have hitherto known as not-a-very-popular ingredient at their dinner table,the sugar beet.
It is being raised by about 40 farmers,particularly in Jodhpur Romana in Bathinda district,for supply to a factory in Tarn Taran that extracts sugar from the sugar beet and not sugarcane.
The farmers say transportation cost of sugar beet is less than that of sugarcane. They say sugarcane is more prone to disease. The returns they get from sugar beet,Rs 145 a quintal,is almost as much they would get for sugarcane. The latest FRP for sugarcane was Rs 170 a quintal. They can have possibly two beet crops a year and double their income,because sugar beet is ready for harvest in six months as compared to the 10 months sugarcane would take.
The yield of sugar per quintal is also higher for sugar beet. Agriculture development officer Dr Baljit Singh said,A quintal of sugar beet yields about 40 per cent sugar as compared to 15-17 per cent from sugarcane. Abroad,sugar beet is used for making sugar. In Punjab the first factory was set up only last year.
Harwinder Singh,a farmer in Jodhpur Romana,has set aside an acre for sugar beet. He has a tie-up with the Tarn taran factory. Darshan Singh of Rampura village and Gurmeet Singh of Maiserkhana too have started raising sugar beet on their farms.
Harwinder Singh said,Sowing is done in mid-October or early November and harvesting is done in April-end,on the same pattern as wheat. The sugar mill gives us Rs 145 a quintal. If it works well,we will bring a larger area under sugar beet next season.
Dr Baljit Singh said,In sandy areas of Bathinda,sugar beet farming succeeds because it needs less water. It is a good option to come out of the paddy-wheat cycle. All farmers have been given pick-up facilities by the mill,so they dont have to bother about transport. We got this farm diversification done on trial after supplying seeds,and are hopeful that in the coming year,the area under sugar beet will increase.
It is a new crop for sugar extraction,said chief agriculture officer Dr Rajwinder Singh Brar.
Sugar beet can be harvested by potato harvester machines and has to be sent to the sugar mill within two days of harvest,say agriculture officers. The leaves of sugar beet are used as fodder for cattle and the crop is ready in six months as compared to 10 months for sugarcane,said Jaskaran Singh,a farmer in Kalalwala village.
Besides Bathinda,farmers of Gurdaspur,Tarntaran and Faridkot are planting sugar beet for the sugar factory.