Short-duration paddy cultivation can help solve Punjab and Haryana’s stubble burning problem

Along with in situ incorporation of stubble into soil is an effective solution for both air pollution and groundwater conservation

By Virender Singh Lather
Published: Wednesday 08 November 2023
Photo: iStock

Paddy cultivation in Punjab and Haryana faces the twin problem of farm residue, which is often burnt and leads to air pollution, and overextraction of groundwater. Adoption of short-duration paddy varieties in direct rice seeding (DSR) system and incorporation of the paddy straw into the soil in its original location can be effective solutions for both of these issues.

Paddy was grown on approximately 4.8 million hectares in Punjab and Haryana during the current Kharif season 2023-24. Basmati varieties, for which farmers frequently use paddy straws as fodder, covered 1.4 million hectares of this total area. 

The remaining land was planted with coarse grain varieties known locally as Parmal varieties. The straw for these varieties is not used as fodder and is instead burned. Farmers have been using this method for ages, but it has become a major source of pollution. 

Government efforts in the last decade for ex-situ management of paddy stubble have been limited because it involves time-consuming processes that necessitate heavy and expensive machinery and the involvement of numerous channels. As a result, government efforts to manage paddy stubble have so far failed because these methods are neither farmer-friendly nor environment-friendly. 

As a result, the farmers are forced to dispose of the paddy stubble due to the short window periods of 20 days available to them for field preparation between harvesting the paddy crop and sowing the next crop, such as wheat, etc. Due to the narrow window period of less than 10-15 days left for farmers to sow wheat crop, the highest incidences of paddy stubble burnings were reported only after October 30.

As a result, short duration varieties can come in handy. Promotion of varieties such as PR-126 and PB-1509, which mature in 110-120 days under DSR sowing, gives farmers a 50-day window for proper paddy stubble management.

These are sown beginning May 20 and are harvested by the end of September. This will give farmers enough time to deep plough the farm stubble into the soil with a mould board (MB) plough before planting the next crop, such as potato, mustard, or green manure. 

Many farmers in Karnal district in Haryana, like Bharat Kadyan and Mehtab Kadyan, have adopted this farmer and environment-friendly approach of DSR cropping since 2020 to great results. 

The government must, however, take some necessary steps to promote this paddy cultivation system. These steps are:

  • DSR should be promoted legally and a ban must be placed on transplantation for coarse grain paddy varieties. Proper changes for this can be fixed under the Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009. Financial incentives of Rs 5,000 per acre can also be provided to the farmers.
  • The legal responsibility of owners of combine harvesters (an agricultural machine that reaps, threshes, and cleans a cereal crop in one operation) must be fixed for in-situ stubble management by incorporating the straw into the soil by deep ploughing suing MB ploughs. The government should also provide financial incentives of Rs 2,000 per acre to the owners of combine harvesters.  
  • Government procurement processes must be rescheduled to begin from September 15 to October 10, so that all paddy harvesting operations are completed before the arrival of the winter cool breeze to the North West Plains Zone, which would otherwise complicate air pollution by combining with low wind speeds of less than 5 kilometres per hour. 

Thus, these methods should be promoted by authorities. This will also lead to groundwater conservation by saving nearly 30 per cent of it, along with the cost of cultivation, labour, energy, and so on.

Virender Singh Lather is former principal scientist (Genetics & Cytogenetics), for ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi (India)

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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