Farmers in the Agra division of Uttar Pradesh - popularly known as the potato basket of India - have been spraying water laced with country liquor to improve their potato crop.
"Farmers in Khandauli block (in Agra district) have been using deshi (country) liquor diluted with water to spray their crops. It is safer compared to pesticides and the quality of the crop also shows signs of improvement," said a potato cultivator of Khandauli, 20 kms from Agra on the road towards Aligarh town.
Farmers in large numbers have been using country liquor mixed in water as a pesticide.
Agricultural scientists at Raja Balwant Singh College in Agra said there was no proof to establish that use of alcohol helped the crop but said "there was no harm". There were others who felt the use of "deshi liquor did help the growth of the crop".
Field reports from farmers and even cold storage owners suggest this novel technique is helping improve the yield and shelf life of the potatoes in cold storage.
A side effect has been the noticeable increase in the sale of country liquor in the area.
Potato farmers in all the seven districts of the Agra division are hoping for a bumper crop this season, despite the handicaps they faced in the past two months like power shortages, black marketing of chemical fertilisers and quality seeds.
A sudden dip in the temperature a fortnight ago dampened the enthusiasm of farmers, who feared widespread losses. But damage control measures by the agriculture department allayed fears on this score.
"Timely advice on the use of chemicals and change in practices did help," says a Khandauli farmer.
This region is the country's highest potato producing area in terms of both quality and output.
Luckily for local cultivators, big companies like Reliance, Subhiksha, Mother Dairy and several others are in line to make big purchases for their retail chains.
The 500-odd cold storages in the region have ample space to store potatoes booked by these companies.
A source said the Birla Group's Trinetra chain is going to buy 10 times more potatoes this year while the Heritage Group of Andhra Pradesh is in the market for 25,000 packets of 50 kg each.
Reliance is expected to purchase around 100,000 packets for its retail chain Reliance Fresh. Mother Dairy's Safal Brand is also planning purchase of local potatoes for its stores.
While potato cultivators are upbeat, cold storage owners say these are early figures and market reports.
"Companies can always shift to other parts if they find the prices favourable to them," a cold storage owner said.
Punjab and Uttarakhand have also reported higher potato yields this year, said market sources.
"At least 20 per cent increase in the area of cultivation and yield can be expected" this season, they say.
For the past three years, the king of vegetables has been kind by giving better returns for yield to farmers.
"We hope this year too the markets would remain upbeat and the farmers would get value for their money," said potato cultivator Subhash from Shamshabad block in Agra district.