Direct paddy sowing reaps benefits

News: Recently, the Haryana government has announced a higher incentive of ₹ 10,000 per hectare for the direct planting of rice.

What are the issues in present rice cropping practice?

At present, rice growers generally use much more water than the crop actually needs. Around 40-45% of the water used for irrigation goes to paddy alone.

There is a mistaken belief that paddy is an aquatic plant that needs waterlogged fields. But they do not necessarily need flooding all the time.

The constant submergence causes loss of applied plant nutrients due to leaching. It encourages the proliferation of pests and diseases. Further, it increases emissions of methane into the environment. Unsurprisingly, nearly 10% of the methane emission come from paddy fields.

The water table is declining rapidly in areas where such a cropping practice is done. For example, the water table in Punjab is receding, on average, by about one meter every year.

What are the causes behind the flooding of rice fields?

Free or subsidized supply of power and diesel for running water pumps. For example, the intensive rice-wheat growing belt in the Indo-Gangetic plain, particularly Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh are notorious for splurging water.

What are the solutions?

Changing Cropping Pattern: This includes replacing paddy with another equally lucrative but less water-consuming crop. However, this option may face a primary challenge from the policy of open-ended rice procurement at pre-determined prices.

Direct Paddy direct seeding method: This is the method that can be used instead of taking the transplanting route. This can promote economical and efficient use of water. In fact, this is a more practical option for the government to promote and farmers to adopt.

About the direct seeding method

Under this system, dry or pre-germinated seeds are sown straight in the fields with the help of seed-drill machines. The laser land leveling equipment should be used to level (perfectly even) the farmland. In addition, the menace of weeds can be tackled by spraying herbicides prior to sowing or after seed planting.

This technique originally experimented for medium to heavy textured soils. But it could be used even on relatively light-textured sandy loam and loam soils as well. Therefore, this can be adopted by farmers in a large part of the country including the rain-dependent areas.

Benefits of Direct Seeding

It ensures a normal harvest with substantially lower water consumption. It also does away with the labour and cost-intensive operations, such as nursery planting, soil puddling, and seedling transplanting.

Likewise, it cuts down the consumption of water by 20-35%. Furthermore, it also cut the requirement for diesel and power by nearly 40%.

It helps save, 3540 man-days of labour for every hectare of cropland. It involves lower cash inputs. Not only that, but it improves soil health and fertiliser-use efficiency. At last, it results in higher crop output, thereby, raising the net profits.

It reduces methane emission from paddy fields. In addition, the method also allows the crop to mature seven to 10 days earlier than normal. Therefore, farmers have more time to appropriately manage paddy stubbles instead of torching them to cause air pollution.

The Way Forward

The system is already gaining popularity in unirrigated lands in many states. It got a major boost during the Covid-19 pandemic. As there was paucity of labour due to reverse migration. Therefore, farmers were forced to look for less labour-intensive ways of growing rice. For instance, In Punjab, about 600,000 hectares of paddy was planted with this method last year.

The governments can offer incentives to promote direct seeding of rice in areas where agro-ecological conditions permit the deployment of this technology.

Source: The post is based on an article “Direct paddy sowing reaps benefits” published in the Business Standard on 16th May 2022.

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