When it comes to farms,Punjab is not Haryanas laggard neighbour. It has surpassed its paddy target for this year despite deficient rains in the transplantation months of June and July while Haryana is down by 1 lakh hectares.
With assured irrigation in its paddy belt over 13 lakh tubewells pumping out water even where there is little Punjab has brought 28 lakh hectares under the crop surpassing its target of 27.5 lakh hectares. However,erratic power supply in Haryana,where most of the tubewells run on electricity and are not diesel-operated and where the paddy belt is more dependent on rains,has seen its sown area plunge to 10.79 lakh hectares against the target of 12 lakh.
The monsoon drift heavy rains in August and September has seen more Punjab farmers shifting towards late-sown and water-economical basmati,accounting for nearly one-fourth of the states paddy area 7 lakh out of 28 lakh hectares. And this is mainly Pusa 1121,which has been fetching high prices for the last few years owing to a growing international demand. Against 5.2 lakh hectares last year,the area under Pusa 1121 will jump by 1 lakh hectares this year to 6.22 lakh while that under traditional varieties will fall from 87,000 hectares last year to 57,000. Super basmati,a variety grown exclusively in Punjab,has been wiped out while the area under the PB-1 variety has seen a drastic fall from 59,000 hectares last year to 2,000 this year.
But the earlier basmati hub,Haryana,has shifted towards non-basmati varieties this year. There is a 50 per cent fall in the area under traditional varieties,from 1.35 lakh hectares last year to 73,000 hectares this year,and by 1 lakh hectares in that under Pusa 1121,an evolved basmati variety,from 4.62 lakh hectares last year to 3.62 lakh this year.
Erratic power supply and rains during the crucial transplantation stage have hit paddy coverage in Haryana. There is also a significant shift in the state towards non-basmati (parmal) this year as it gives a higher yield,matures early and offers the security of a minimum support price. In Punjab,late rains have brought a larger area under basmati. The fall in area under traditional basmati in both states is owing to farmers being disheartened by the low prices of the last few years. Moreover,the yield is lower and more prone to disease, which explains the growing popularity of Pusa 1121 in Punjab, says Dharmesh Verma of Hyderabad-based Agrinet Solutions that prepares field and satellite reports for the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of the Ministry for Commerce and Industry.
Verma adds that the shift to basmati in Punjab is temporary and monsoon-related. In years of normal rains in transplantation months,Punjab would once again go for parmal varieties as they offer the security of assured procurement for the Central pool.
But higher area may not mean higher yield. Heavy rains during the flowering stage could play spoilsport. The farmers are worried as it rained heavily when the paddy crop was in full bloom. This has resulted in shedding of flowers,so the yield may suffer on account of this, he adds.
Also worried are basmati exporters,who are facing rejection of consignments mainly in the United States. There is a two to three per cent rejection rate in the US for Indian basmati as pesticides used in India and the US are different. Even countries such as Japan,which has a high safety level of three,are accepting it; so are China and Europe. Basmati exports to the US,which has a safety level of one,comprise only 1.6 per cent; Iran,Iraq and Saudi Arabia account for nearly 75 per cent. The problem is more from bad publicity the rejections can get. We are trying to educate farmers on how to use pesticide and how much and when to use. But for generating higher awareness,the state governments,too,should pitch in by putting hoardings in mandi yards and roping in commission agents to the awareness campaigns, says Vijay Setia,former president of the All India Rice Exporters Association.
Other basmati producers
Uttar Pradesh,the third state in terms of basmati production,too,will see a fall in acreage. The area under Pusa 1121 will fall from 3.5 lakh hectares last year to 2.9 lakh hectares and that under PB-1 from 66,000 hectares to 59,000 hectares. If one counts the area under traditional varieties (18,500 hectares),the states total basmati coverage stands at 3.67 lakh hectares this year. In Uttarakhand,the basmati area is pegged at 10.3 lakh hectares this year.