Why Patiala's farmers are reluctant to use crop waste management machines

Mukhtiar Singh says he has used Happy Seeder machines in just three of the 40 acres of his land in Naraingarh village of Nabha, as wheat yields go down when sown through these machines. Photo: Sanjay Sharma
Mukhtiar Singh has a Happy Seeder harvesting machine sitting in a garage at the 40-acre farm that he manages in Naraingarh village in Nabha, Patiala. The tractor-mounted machine cuts and lifts the paddy straw, thereby avoiding the need for stubble burning.  But when he harvested the paddy crop on his farm this year, Mukhtiar Singh decided to give the machine a miss.

“This machine was bought for almost Rs 1,80,000, but after using it last year, I haven’t moved it an inch this time,” says Singh. The Happy Seeder not only cuts paddy stubble — simultaneously, it also  levels the land and sows wheat seeds into the soil. Despite that, farmers in Punjab are reluctant to use it. They say that using the machine leads to a fall in the wheat yield. 

“On an average, I got five quintals less wheat per acre after I used the Happy Seeder,” says Singh.

Farm equipment manufacturers insist that there is little evidence to support the theory that Happy Seeder machines, which are effective in crop waste management, lead to a fall in the yield of wheat. But farmers are not convinced.  

“The Happy Seeder does not completely remove the paddy stubble from the field. Instead, it forms a sort of layer over the wheat seed, and our experience shows that this makes the wheat susceptible to pest attacks,” Singh says. 

He claims, moreover, that the stubble layer doesn’t let the fertiliser mix with the soil, which is another reason for the drop in wheat yields. The high cost of the machines is also a big deterrent.

A better option, according to Mukhtiar Singh, is the rotavator or the rotary tiller.  This machine cuts the stubble, readies the land for cultivation and places the wheat seeds along with the fertiliser into the soil. Singh says that this year, he mostly used the rotavator on his farm. 

The fact that the rotavator is cheaper than the Happy Seeder also makes it more attractive. “An average rotavator costs around Rs 60,000, which is almost half the price of a Happy Seeder,” says Ghuman Singh, another farmer from the same area.

Farmers admit that rotavators have one significant drawback — they do not completely rule out the need for stubble burning. Still, the quantity of stubble left behind by the rotavator is much less than what remains when a combine harvester is used. And farmers say it works well when the top layer of the paddy stubble is burnt.

A third and more advanced harvesting machine useful for crop waste management is the Super Seeder, which costs upwards of Rs 200,000, and performs multiple functions, including the sowing of other crops. 

Among the three tractor-mounted stubble management machines —Happy Seeder, rotavators and Super Seeder — farmers seem to prefer the rotavator the most.

One major complaint with regard to these machines is that most need to be operated by high-power tractors (above 90 HP) and do not run on the more commonly used 50-60 HP tractors.

“The average cost of a high-power tractor is over Rs 10 lakh. How many of us can afford it,” asks Ghuman Singh, who is also a member of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal faction). 

According to official estimates, this year the Punjab government has distributed 29,000 rotavators, Happy Seeders and Super Seeders to farmers.  

The recipients are not impressed, though. Many feel that they are being treated like guinea pigs to test the new machines. Besides, even if they want to use them, these machines are often not available in adequate numbers.

“A few years back, the Central and state governments thrust rotavators on us, then they started talking about Happy Seeder machines and now, Super Seeders…Are we some kind of guinea pigs on whom all sorts of experiments are being made,” asks Chhote Singh of Ghanurkhi village in Nabha.

Chhote Singh claims that he has never burnt paddy stubble as he has a small farm of about 4 acres and uses manual labour to harvest his crop. But he might not be able to keep his resolve for long, he says, and might have to resort to stubble burning in the future.

“This time I went to the local government official to hire a rotavator, but he told me to wait for my turn and come back after 10 days. If I wait for 10 days the moisture in the soil will be lost and I won’t get the same yield on my wheat. If the government wants farmers to shift to machines that avoid stubble burning, the least they can do is to ensure that they are made available at the right time,” says a miffed Singh.  

Series concludes

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