From UP to Punjab, mechanised harvesting faces coronavirus lockdown hurdles

Topics Farming | Coronavirus | Lockdown

Wheat harvesting in Punjab and Haryana starts in full scale around mid-April
Chamkaur Singh, a young farmer from Nabha district of Punjab, is waiting for harvesting his wheat crops. Getting a combine harvester has never been a problem for him as Nabha is known the country’s biggest manufacturing centre for such machines. This year, however, the situation is slightly different.

A combine harvester is a key equipment for farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan as it can harvest acres of land at one go and doesn’t require much labour.

Wheat harvesting in Punjab and Haryana starts in full scale around mid-April. Singh says combine harvesters from the city have been sent to across the country on rent and are taking time to return because of lockdown. “The problem with harvesters is about shifting them but a bigger trouble is manufacturing other small farm equipment that are used for soil preparation, levelling etc for the next season,” a senior official from a multination farm equipment manufacturer said.
Unseasonal rain delays harvesting in UP

In western UP, which is also a major wheat-growing belt, the recent unseasonal rains have delayed the harvest by two weeks. In the current 2020 rabi season, the state was targeting wheat production of 39 million tonnes (mt). However, the target may not be achieved due to the untimely rainfall. Only 20 percent of wheat harvesting is complete so far.

UP Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi said the number of operational combine harvester stood at about 4,800 in the state. “Besides, harvesters and reapers have been deployed, which takes the tally to 10,000 at present. We have instructed the district magistrates to allow the entry of more harvesters from other states,” he said.

Meanwhile, Basti district-based farmer Arvind Singh said 80 per cent of harvesting in UP was dependent upon harvesters. “This year, the speed of the arrival of harvesters from mainly Punjab has been slower due to the lockdown,” he said, adding the process was slowly gaining momentum.

Dharmendra Singh, a functionary of the Kisan Union, said: “For now, most farmers are engaged in harvesting sugarcane but the labour crunch will be felt after the next 10 days as in the west UP, most farmers can’t afford machines because land parcels are small.”

MP harvested 80% wheat

In Madhya Pradesh, another big rabi crop-growing state, almost 80 per cent of the standing wheat crop and a bulk of chana and mustard have been harvested.

“The problem will be storing these produce as no private buyer is willing to buy because mandis haven’t started in full swing,” says a farmer from Malhargarh in Mandsaur says. “God forbid if it rains heavily now, all our produce will go waste.”
Punjab allows harvesting only in daytime

Punjab will allow harvesting to take place only in the daytime. “Since 90 per cent harvesting in Punjab is done with the help of machines, there is no problem of social distancing. The whole procurement of foodgrain should take place in mandis,” said Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal.

Besides, procurement and sale of foodgrain will be scattered over 10 weeks, instead of three weeks normally. Farmers will be given chits mentioning specific day and time when they can come and sell their produce.

Even if the availability of harvesters gradually gets sorted, absence of labour to fill gunny bags, sew them, load them into trucks, and transport them to the mandis is another set of problem. Sources said Punjab needs around 500,000 bales of jute to make gunny bags for storing wheat in each rabi season. This year, 340,000 bales have been ordered while the rest is on its way from West Bengal.

Gujarat completes wheat harvesting

In Gujarat, farmers and experts say mechanised harvesting of wheat crop was almost complete before the lockdown set in.  

“Almost 80-90 per cent of wheat is harvested through machines that are brought from Haryana and Punjab on rent.

Mechanised harvesting largely happens in Saurashtra and north Gujarat regions, where summer sowing has begun,” said Vitthal Dudhatra, Gujarat president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.

In north Gujarat, harvesting machine operators from Punjab and Haryana have returned after their work, said B S Deora, dean of  Sardarkrushinagar Dantiwada Agricultural University in Banaskantha.

Early harvesting of samba helps TN crops

Harvest for the rabi season, known as samba in Tamil Nadu, was over by February without any manpower-machine shortage. 
Now, the Kodai season, which is paddy cultivation in around 1 million acres mostly depending on the borewell irrigation, is being harvested. Since it is a smaller season and, considering villagers who were working in cities have come back to their natives, there is no shortage of manpower or harvesting machines.

P R Pandian, president of Tamil Nadu All Farmers' Associations' Coordination Committee, said agriculture was exempted from lockdown and there was manpower available for harvesting. Mechanisation is almost 90 per cent in the sector and most of them rely on rented machines. This year, 8 million metric tronne of paddy has been harvested and Kuruvai is expected to be sown in 1.8 million acres, he said.

Boro rice harvest in West Bengal in 15 days

In West Bengal, the harvesting season for Boro rice (winter rice) will start in the next 15-20 days in the state. In West Bengal, Boro rice is grown in about 1.5 million hectare areas. Of this, mechanised harvesting is done over about 300,000-400,000 hectares.

With a large number of migrant workers coming back to West Bengal, there will be excess labour supply and agriculture wages are also likely fall. Thus, the state will largely depend upon manual labour this season, although mechanised farming is slowly picking up in West Bengal, says Pranab Chatterjee, professor at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya.
(Contributed by Sanjeeb Mukherjee/ Dilasha Seth/ Virendra Rawat/ Gireesh Babu/ Vinay Umarji/ Namrata Acharya)

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