With the cultivation of paddy contributing maximum to the declining of groundwater level, the agriculture department has motivated farmers to sow rice varieties that consume less water and mature early.
The kharif season is next. Last year, PUSA 44, a variety that Punjab Agricultural University had not recommended, was sown in 70% of the area under rice cultivation in Sangrur and Patiala districts. The PAU does not recommend it because it is prone highly to fungus and insect attacks, requires 160 to 170 days to mature, and consumes more water than any recommended variety.
Last year, 2.73-lakh hectares in Sangrur district was under paddy cultivation. In the new draft agriculture policy, state farmers' commission (PSFC) chairman GS Kalkat had proposed that the government should promote crop diversification and encourage farmers to grow maize, vegetables, cereals and pulses to preserve groundwater.
With farmers done with wheat season, the agriculture department swung into action to promote the recommended varieties of rice such as PR 118, 114, and 116 besides new varieties PR 121 and 122, which save water. "The department organised many awareness camps for farmers in villages across the district to encourage them to buy seeds of only those varieties that were friendly to the environment," said chief agriculture officer (CAO) Rajinder Singh Sohi.
"The PAU-recommended varieties save water, as these mature in only 130 to 140 days, almost 25 days before PUSA 44 and other non-recommended are ready for harvest, and give farmers a better yield per hectare" Sohi added. "Besides pushing down the water table, PUSA 44 also is prone to bacterial leaf blight disease, which will not only hurt farmers financially but also decrease the state's paddy production," he added.
New varieties such as PR 121 and 122 will help farmers get 31.50-quintal from each hectare, much more than the output from PUSA 44. However, the authorities recommend growing PR 111 in the areas where the quality of groundwater was poor, as it took only 132 days to mature.
The problem of high moisture in PUSA 44 had proved a bane for farmers in the recent years. Last year, controlling moisture content in this variety had remained a Herculean task for farmers as well as the procurement authorities. The moisture content, 22 to 24%, was much over the permissible 17% limite that the government procurement agencies had set. Even the rice millers had found it challenging to handle the moisture content in packed paddy.
The damage extent in PUSA 44 varied from 4 to 6%, while the Food Corporation of India (FCI) accepted only paddy that had 3% damage or less. "A few days ago, I bought seeds of the PR 122 variety from a kisan mela at the PAU in Ludhaina," said Harmial Singh, a paddy farmer. "Already a few days ago, I had to sow PUSA 44 because the recommended varieties were not available with the agriculture department."