An agricultural labourer harvests wheat crop at a farm during the nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, on the outskirts of Noida, UP. Photo: PTI
As the possibility of an extended lockdown impacting the smooth movement of labour looms, the Punjab government
has decided to encourage the state’s farmers to shift en masse to maize and cotton, instead of paddy.
is expected to start from June, depending on the progress of the southwest monsoon. Field preparation begins before that.
With migratory labourers having expertise in planting rice returning to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar after the lockdown announcement last month, Punjab is urging its farmers to grow cotton or maize as the next crop for the kharif season.
The state government has asked the Centre to further raise the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of maize and give incentives to set up maize-based industries so that farmers are encouraged to shift from growing paddy.
The current MSP of maize for FY20 is Rs 1,760 per quintal while that of common grade paddy is Rs 1,815 a quintal. While paddy has assured state procurement, maize doesn’t factor, which makes it less attractive for growers.
Punjab has been working on shifting farmers from paddy to maize and other alternative crops in the kharif season
and, in 2019, it managed to shift almost 0.75 million hectares from paddy to alternative crops. But now the focus has acquired more importance over fears of non-availability of labour. “What seems to be worrying Punjab is not the harvesting of rabi, but our next crop, which is paddy. This operation of planting paddy is totally labour-intensive and Punjab doesn’t have the expertise or experienced labour to do it. So, instead of paddy we are asking to go for cotton or maize as it can be done with fewer number of labour,” Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal told Business Standard recently.
In Punjab, paddy is planted in around 2.6 to 2.7 million hectares of land every year. But in 2019, the acreage dropped, as some farmers shifted from paddy to maize, cotton, high-value basmati rice and vegetables.
The state planted maize in around 0.16 million hectares of land, while cotton was grown in around 0.97 million hectares, sources said. The state plans to at least double the acreage under the two crops due to labour scarcity.
While maize requires around 3-4 labourers per acre of land for manual dibbling of the crop, mechanised planter will reduce the time to less than two hours. That apart, even for harvesting, maize requires less labour than paddy as it can be done fully through combine harvesters. In comparison, per acre requirement for paddy planting is much more.
“At any point of time, I will urge people to grow maize instead of paddy as the price realised is more than paddy, while water drawl is also lower and other ill-effects of growing paddy on the environment are also minimal,” said Sain Dass, ex-director of Indian Council for Agriculture Research, and chairman of Maize Diversification Group of Haryana.
Punjab went into lockdown 20 days before the country due to its high NRI and immigrant population. Hence, the government is ensuring that the state has enough seeds for cotton and maize. “The government is trying to ensure that farmers get seeds from a proper place in a district,” Badal said.
The Punjab government
has also sought permission to expedite production of ethanol from maize to blend it with petrol. As for the current wheat harvesting season, Badal said Punjab had decided to spread the procurement of crops over 10 weeks as against 2-3 weeks that the exercise normally takes.
67% of wheat area harvested amid fight against Covid-19
India has so far harvested crop in 67 per cent of the sown area of 31 million hectare in the country, taking safety precautions against Covid-19.
According to the latest data, wheat, the main rabi (summer) crop, has been completed 90-95 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 80-85 per cent in Rajasthan, 60-65 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, so far, it said in a statement. Harvesting is at peak in key wheat-growing states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and is likely to be completed in the current month, the ministry said. PTI