Paddy cultivation has witnessed a steady decline in the district in the past two decades. The crop, which was cultivated on 3,325 hectares in 1997, was grown only on 1,657 hectares during the last kharif season.
Of the total 45,000 hectares under agriculture twice a year in the district, paddy is cultivated on just 1,657 hectares, bringing it into a minor crop category.
Terming it as a cause of concern, agriculture experts cite a number of reasons for the reducing area under paddy, while farmers mainly complain that rice cultivation is getting costlier and the yield per hectare is diminishing, making it unviable for them to grow paddy.
Scientist in-charge of Una Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Dr Arvind Kumar said rice cultivation was at its peak in 1997, but 10 years later, it had been reduced to 1,976 hectares and there had been a steady decline thereafter.
Kumar said the current average yield at 23.84 quintals per hectare was also very less as compared to the expected yield, though it is higher as compared to the higher reaches of the state. He said as compared to maize crop, which is also sown during the kharif season, paddy requires greater cost inputs like constant irrigation and labour for transplantation of seedlings.
A progressive farmer Ram Asra of Takka village said daily wages were rising, while labour was not readily available for specialised works like paddy transplantation.
Another farmer Bhagat Ram from Bhadsali village said the irrigation and public health department did not promote paddy cultivation as the crop required a lot of water, posing great stress on the ground water reserves. Further, he said pumping out water from personal tubewells using diesel sets was not viable.
Another main reason for the farmers to shun paddy cultivation is that exotic and expensive varieties such as various strains of Basmati rice have either not been developed for cultivation in the region or have failed to give the desired yield here.
Consequently, the local rice cultivated here does not fetch good price and is therefore not a lucrative business for the farmers.
Deputy director of the agriculture department HS Rana said the procurement rate of paddy from farmers by the Food Corporation of India was very low in the district.
He also pointed out that provision of adequate quantity of rice to people under the public distribution system was also a deterrent for farmers to cultivate paddy.
He added that farmers were switching over to cash crops like potato and cultivation of poplar trees under the agro forestry activities on land left out of paddy cultivation.
Meanwhile, as a last effort to revive paddy cultivation, the KVK has launched awareness and on-farm testing for propagating a manual paddy transplant.
Kumar said this manual device can transplant four or six seedlings at a time, cutting down labour cost drastically. He said a six-row prototype has also been developed by Palampur Agricultural University.