The healthy golden crop dotting the countryside in Punjab had made the growers and agricultural experts happy initially as they felt that wheat yield may break all past records but the harvest has belied their claims.
The yield has fallen by an average 2 quintals per hectare in Amritsar district and similar trend has been reported from other parts of the state also.
Initial reports from the district agriculture department indicated that the average yield this year will hover around 47 quintals per hectare against 49.48 quintals last year.
These statistics are based on the results of 35 experimental plots selected randomly by the agriculture department. A total of 122 plots have been selected for the purpose.
"Though results of majority of experiments are yet to come in, we can safely conclude that the yield has fallen by 2 to 3 quintals per hectare. This trend is being reported from other parts of Punjab also," chief agriculture officer (CAO) Dilbagh Singh Dhanju told HT on Thursday.
Yellow rust, vagaries of weather to blame
About the reasons behind decline in wheat yield, Dhanju said attack of yellow rust on the crop was one reason and it affected wheat in the entire state. This is a fungal attack and cold weather during this winter was conducive for it, he said.
Yellow rust fungus is present in the foothills of lower and mid-Shivalik ranges and winds bring it to Punjab. It settles on the leaves of the wheat plant, gradually turning these pale yellow and thereby adversely affecting photosynthesis process of the plant. The end result is that the grain formation is also affected.
The other reason was vagaries of weather during the winter months, which led to less number of irrigation spells by farmers. Wheat crop requires four spells of irrigation, from sowing to ripening, but most farmers reported three irrigations.
"Similar amount of rain was received during winters this year as compared to corresponding period last year. The rain, however, was not widespread and confined to certain areas. When it rained in one pocket, farmers of the adjoining areas did not irrigate their fields and preferred to wait for showers, which either eluded them or were just not adequate," said Dhanju.
According to agricultural experts, a single irrigation for wheat crop requires 7.5 cm water so that it could reach the roots of the plant. However, in pockets where it rained less, water did not reach the roots and the wetness remained confined to the upper limits of the soil.
"Several farmers did not go in for the fourth irrigation in March when the crop was ripening. This affected grain formation. However, farmers who resorted to timely irrigation had a healthy yield," Dhanju explained.
This year, the yield for all wheat varieties was less as compared to last year. A major portion of the area in the state was under high-yielding varieties such as HD-2967, PBW-621 and PBW-550 and their yield too was hit.