Farmers are willing to move out of the wheat-paddy (basmati) cycle and diversify to other crops like maize, sugarcane, pulses and soya bean but only if the central government provides them with remunerative prices that will not only cover their input costs but also ensure better profits than paddy or wheat.
These views were expressed by some farmers of Amritsar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (Nawanshahar) districts during a field interaction with a central team over the past two days. The team, comprising of joint secretary Sanjay Lohia, department of agriculture and cooperation, and Dr AP Singh, agriculture commissioner of India, visited selected farms in the two districts and also interacted with Punjab officials to get a feedback of the centrally-sponsored crop diversification programme.
Amritsar chief agriculture officer (CAO) Paramjit Singh Sandhu told HT here on Saturday that the team’s main motive was to get a feedback on the response of the farmers to the maize crop, which is one of the crops recommended under the diversification scheme for Punjab. On Friday the team members toured parts of Amritsar district and met farmers of Mannawala and Mallian villages who had cut down on the area under paddy this year and opted for maize.
“The farmers clearly told them that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of maize would have to be hiked from the Rs. 1,310 per quintal if the government wants to promote this crop over paddy. Some of them narrated their last year’s experiences wherein they had to sell the crop at less than the MSP,” stated Sandhu who had accompanied the central team.
The team members also asked farmers as top what kind of support was provided to them by the state agriculture department for the growing of maize. They were told that certified maize seed was provided at subsidised rates.
As hiring of agricultural implements forms a very important component of diversification, the central team also visited the Agriculture Service Centre run by farmer Gurdial Singh at Raipur village. They took note that custom hiring of implements like laser levellers, combine harvesters and even tractors and sowing machines, was gradually picking up in Amritsar district.
“Farmers, particularly the small and marginal ones, often fall into the debt or loan trap after they purchase tractors or other implements. As this gives a setback to diversification, the agriculture department encourages hiring,” the CAO said.
In Vallaha village, the team also interacted with a farmer who had underground irrigation system at his farm. The farmer told them that he had availed subsidy for this under the diversification scheme and urged the officials that this amount should be further increased in Punjab where groundwater depletion due to paddy is a major problem. They also met officials of the state soil department to get a feedback on the soil health in the district.
“There was a clear demand that the subsidy component should be made to cover not just seeds (in the case of maize) but also maize thrashers and other implements that are not covered,” said the CAO while referring to the views expressed by farmers.
Sandhu told the central team that under the diversification programme for maize, the area under cultivation at present is 12,500 hectares in Amritsar district as against 600 hectares last year. An area of around 1,000 hectares has been shifted from paddy to maize and this is likely to increase in future.