PAU study debunks state’s claim on soil deterioration

  • Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Mar 05, 2015 10:21 IST

A study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, and corroborated by experts has debunked the state government’s claim that Punjab’s soil health is deteriorating. The study instead shows that the soil health has improved since the onset of the Green Revolution in the early 1970s.

The state government is well aware of the study report but has apparently kept it under wraps.

Talking to HT on the condition of anonymity, the head of a state government institution working in the field of agriculture said the government claim was a pretext to receive preference in getting fertilisers such as DAP (diammonium phosphate) and urea from the Centre.

Compensation for deterioration of soil health is also included in the recommendations sent by the state to the Centre’s Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) prior to rabi and kharif seasons every year.

The report by PAU agriculture economist Dr HS Shergill says, “Soil fertility in Punjab has been improving since the 1970s rather than declining, as is widely believed,” adding that the evidence showed a positive trend in soil nutrients and soil properties, continuing growth of rice and wheat yields, and a decline in the amount of fertilisers used. The report says the organic matter of soil as well as the phosphorus and potassium content has improved.

Royalty as compensation

In 2010, the state government had sought royalty of about Rs 2,000 crore as compensation for soil deterioration. But of late, the government has been maintaining a stoic silence on the issue, particularly after the report was published in the journal of agriculture development and policy in 2013. During a recent meeting with Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal did not touch upon the issue.

“The PAU study analysed 3.19 lakh samples collected by its soil department from 1981 to 2006. It shows that the soil quality has improved. But the report was too technical and I simplified it and culled out reasons for the quality improvement,” Shergill told HT.

Accepting that soil quality has improved, PAU vice-chancellor Dr BS Dhillon expressed concern over the deficiency of nutrients such as zinc and iron in the soil.

Punjab State Farmers’ Commission chairman GS Kalkat denied that the report was being kept under wraps. He echoed Dhillon’s view that Punjab’s soil was zinc-deficient.

Farm economist Sardara Singh Johl, who had highlighted soil deterioration 30 years ago, is sticking to his stand. “I don’t believe that the soil quality has improved. Where has the organic content come from?” he asked.

Shergill’s report says that the improvement in soil fertility is the result of increasing amount of plant residues ploughed under the soil and the submergence of soil in water in the paddy season.

The fall in water table has ameliorated alkalinity, salinity and waterlogging, and improved the fertility of such land, the report adds.

Some agree, some don’t

I reject the report that soil health has improved. The soil is turning poisonous due to excessive usage of pesticides. Farmers continue to burn wheat and paddy stubble, yet the report says that the organic content has improved. Sardara Singh Johl, agriculture economist.

It has been proved thatthe soil health in Punjab isimproving, but there is deficiency of zinc. The farmers’ commissionis working on the matter.Now, the challenge is thefalling subsoil water table, which needs to be corrected. GS Kalkat, chairman, Punjab State Farmers’ Commission.

The soil has improved because we are adding nutrients to feed wheat and paddy crops. Biomass has increased as wheat and paddy roots are left in the soil, helping accumulation of organic carbon. The soil is deficient in zinc and iron. BS Dhillon, Punjab Agricultural Univeristy vice-chancellor.

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