Standing under the shade of a roadside tree in the hot humid weather on the outskirts of Jehangir village, the lone figure of a middle-aged farmer gazes at the paddy crop in front of him and then takes a couple of steps forward, sits at the edge of the field for a while and then rises and moves on to an adjoining field where he again inspects the crop.
When enquired by a HT team which was passing by on Tuesday, the farmer, who identifies himself as Lakhwinder Singh, mutters that he was just checking the fields for cracks due to dryness. Luckily for him, he has not come across any cracks in the 11-acre paddy field. Such cracks are quite visible in a number of other paddy fields on the link road leading to Loharka village from the city.
But what has been the price that Lakhwinder has had to pay to ensure that his crop remains healthy? In his mind, he makes a couple of rough calculations and mutters a few figures and then says, "Last year nalo double kharcha ho jayega season end vich (the cost this season will be double than the last year's).
The reason for double the expenditure which will be borne by Lakhwinder or any other farmer of the state for the upkeep of the paddy crop is quite obvious - a failed monsoon will also affect the power supply. To keep the crop healthy, the farmers will have to use diesel-operated pumps to lift groundwater for irrigation, meaning extra cost, which they did not incur last year as the state received adequate rain.
Cost of paddy cultivation
Operating a 45-Horse Power (HP) tractor, Lakhwinder transplanted paddy on 11 acres, beginning June 10. He was expecting a good monsoon, but not a drop fell from the skies and with power supply being erratic, he was left with no option but to use his tractor and a generator to draw underground water.
"We have to care for our crops like we care for our children," he says with a smile on his face just to show how dear the paddy crop is to him.
Continuing he points to the fields and says, "No farmer can manage over 2-3 acres of paddy with six hours assured electricity supply that we get for our tubewells. If the supply to the tubewells is at night, then it is okay but during the day this is reduced to four hours and at times even less due to frequent breakdowns. We are never compensated with a few extra hours for the breakdowns".
Lakhwinder has deputed a worker permanently at the tubewell as when the power supply trips, his immediate task is to start the generator and draw water to irrigate the fields. A break in the supply line would mean irrigating the same field again after the power supply to the tubewell has been restored. As per Lakhwinder's calculations, he spends around Rs 250 in one hour on diesel for operating his generator or tractor for drawing out the water. A one-acre field of paddy takes around two-and-half hours or at times even three hours of water supply.
Hence he spends Rs 675 to Rs 750 on diesel for irrigating an acre of paddy when there is no electricity. Depending on the nature of the soil, a paddy field is irrigated between 30-33 times in one season.
Last year when the state experienced sufficient rains, the expenditure incurred on an acre of paddy at the end of the season by Lakhwinder was Rs 6,500 which includes the amount spent on fertilizers, diesel, pesticides. This year this cost is expected to cross the Rs 10,000 per acre mark, which does not include the labour cost and the cost of wear and tear of machinery. The prices of fertilizers, diesel and even pesticides have gone up from last year.
Lakhwinder's expected expenditure could probably stay around Rs 10,000 per acre as he is a very methodical farmer who goes by the books on farming and keeps taking the advice of agricultural experts. Like, for example, unlike most farmers, he didn't apply DAP (fertilizer) this year as it was not required. Likewise, he takes periodic advice on chemical sprays on the crop and follows a set method of irrigation instead on just filling up fields up to the brim.
Setback for lease farming
Perhaps the most worried among the lot are the farmers who are into lease farming or have taken farm holdings on rent for an year or longer duration.
This fact was highlighted by Santokh Singh of Kotli Sultan Singh village, who too, like Lakhwinder, presented similar statistical figures on the input costs being incurred by farmers.
"With the input cost going up, farming on rented land will not yield the expected profits," Santokh says.
He says the rent for an acre of land for one year is around Rs 30,000 and it goes up further in the vegetable producing belts of the district. "In such a situation a farmer must have a very productive yield to cover all input and hidden costs. If crop on rented land fails, then you can imagine the plight of the farmer," Santokh says.
Other crops being ignored
In the absence of sufficient rains, the farmers concentrate only on the paddy crop and tend to ignore the other crops, like sugarcane and even their fruit trees.
This is precisely what Kanwaljit Singh of Loharka village has done. While he has managed to maintain a steady flow of water to his 20-acre paddy crop whatever be the cost, his sugarcane fields are parched. He has not even applied sufficient water to his fodder fields despite maintaining a sizeable number of cows and buffaloes.
According to chief agriculture officer (CAO) Dilbagh Singh Dhanju, a sugarcane field must be irrigated once every fortnight or even after a gap of 20 days. But Kanwaljit does not seem to be following the prescribed pattern of irrigation and the result is that the leaves of his sugarcane crop has started turning yellow.
"Under such adverse conditions farmers ignore sugarcane which ultimately has its effect - the crop not attaining the right size and weight. Likewise, fruit trees fail to produce quality fruit. However, vegetables are not ignored as this is a short duration cash crop and will bring quick returns," says Dhanju.
In 2011, 48.9 mm of rain was recorded in the district from May till July 23, of which around 40-mm rain occurred in June alone. This year there was no rain in May, 4 mm in June and 31 mm in the month of July.
Unlike last year, the rainfall in July this year was confined just to the belt in an arc from Majitha to the outskirts of Verka and upto Jandiala. A healthy monsoon from an agri expert's point of view is calculated as per the number of rainy days. Last year from May to July 23, the number of rainy days was 15 while this year this figure was just eight and limited to a particular area.
The period when the paddy crop requires maximum water is in June when transplantation takes place and this year the rains completely failed the farmers in this month. Towards the end of July, irrigation activities persist but the quantity of water to be applied declines.
Warning to farmers
The district agriculture department has asked farmers not to indulge in any reckless application of fertilizers particularly urea. This particularly happens in fields which develop cracks due to dryness.
"It is no use going on applying fertilizers or weedicides in paddy fields where cracks have developed. These chemicals will seep through the cracks once the field is irrigated or if it rains. As the cracks are deeper than the root level of the crop hence the fertilizers will not have the desired effect," said Dr Dhanju.
He explained that on the contrary the concentration of chemicals, including urea, will have an adverse effect on the yield and also damage the health of the soil.