Farmers of Punjab, particularly the small and marginal ones, are gradually opting out of net house cultivation, primarily due to the cost factor involved in replacement of damaged nets.
"If a medium farmer like me cannot afford to replace a damaged net, you can well imagine that even a small farmer will never have the money to purchase a new net," opined Comrade Jagtar Singh of Mehalawala village, who has vowed never to set up a net house on his 8-acre land.
Jagtar had set up a single net house covering a 1-kanal area in one of his fields, while on the remaining land he carried on with the traditional method of agriculture. The net lasted for only two-and-a-half years. High-velocity winds tore apart a portion of the net.
"I repaired it but then again after a month, the winds widened the hole which I had repaired. I contacted the authorities but found out that there was no subsidy on net replacement. Thereafter, after plucking the capsicums growing inside the net house, I dismantled the entire structure," said Jagtar while talking to HT at his farmhouse.
Agreeing with the views of Jagtar, the deputy director (horticulture) of Amritsar district, Baaz Singh, said, "The subsidy is only on setting up a new net house. There is no subsidy on net replacement. The cost of replacing the net of one house is around Rs. 30,000, plus the labour charges. Leave alone marginal farmers, even well-to-do farmers are not willing to spend this much on the replacement."
According to the figures with the horticulture department, there were 93 net houses in Amritsar district four-five years back. The number of functional net houses and those which are in proper condition has come down drastically to just around 20. This is just not the case in Amritsar district, but in the entire state, primarily because there is no subsidy on net replacement. The maximum life of a net is three years, but it often happens that due to high-velocity winds that blow across the state, particularly from April to June, nets get damaged much ahead of the guarantee period.
It was the Punjab Farmers' Commission that had decided to promote net houses among farmers and the subsidy on a single net house covering an area of 1 kanal was Rs. 40,000. The total cost of the net house of this size four years ago was around Rs. 1.10 lakh, which included the cost of the net, the cost of the supporting poles and of course the labour cost. The subsidy has now gone up to Rs. 50,000 as the cost of erecting a net house has also increased.
Initially, the subsidy was given through the Punjab Farmers' Commission. Now it is given under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and comes to the state government from the Centre.
The design of the net house was given by the state horticulture department and was uniform throughout the state. It was a plastic-weaved net having 1,600 miniature holes in 1 square inch. Initially, the commission procured the nets for the farmers, but later on some farmers started getting the nets made themselves.
"Even though the farmers got good returns from the crops grown in net houses, they did not carry on with it after their nets got damaged. This was despite the fact that good quality capsicums, cucumbers, tomatoes and some other vegetables and even strawberries were harvested by farmers," said Baaz Singh, pointing out that his department had taken up this issue with the commission, but so far no decision had been taken on giving subsidy on net replacement.
Vikram Sarkaria, a young progressive farmer, has opted out of net house cultivation and is now into polyhouse cultivation. His experience with net houses was not very encouraging despite the subsidy. The government also gives subsidy for polyhouses, which are expensive for even medium farmer. A polyhouse covering an area of 2 kanals costs around Rs. 9.35 lakh and the subsidy is Rs. 4.67 lakh.
"The net that I got through the commission was given with a guarantee of three years. However, in the very first year, the net covering one of the houses got damaged and despite the guarantee, my net was not replaced. So I have switched to polyhouses, which have the advantage of temperature and weather control," Sarkaria said, pointing out that net house cultivation cannot be successful in open fields due to high-velocity winds and even the sun, as the summer heat at times leads to cracks in the net.
For his polyhouse structures, which also have nets in the lower portion, Sarkaria has used high-quality nets made by an Israeli company.