The Punjab government's crop diversification plan, aimed at weaning away farmers from the traditional crop pattern of paddy and wheat, is witnessing the emergence of basmati as the first choice to replace paddy.
As per information available with the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) here and the state agriculture department, basmati cultivation is set to get an unprecedented jump with an increase of around 1 lakh hectares of farm area under this crop.
As per an estimate, basmati sowing, which started this week in the state, will be between 5.5 and 6 lakh hectares this year. In the previous kharif season, it was 4-4.5 lakh hectares.
"The enthusiasm for basmati is tremendous this year. We expect the area to touch 6 lakh hectares. The main reason behind this estimated increase is the state government's tax benefits," said Gurdyal Singh, joint director, state agriculture department.
Fulfilling the demand of basmati buyers, the state government has announced to waive 3% infrastructure development cess on basmati exports.
Various PAU centres across the state are seeing a rush for the seed of newly-introduced basmati varieties such as PUSA-1509 and Punjab Basmati 3.
"Apart from the generally sown seed, as per our feedback till now, 100 quintals of seed of each new variety have been procured by farmers at various farmer fairs organised by PAU in the past two months. This shows that farmers are ready to shift to basmati from paddy," said Dr Mukhtar Singh Gill, director, extension education, PAU.
This new variety gives more yield, need less water and matures earlier. The height of the basmati plant of PUSA-1509 is only 105 cm as compared to around 180 cm of PUSA-1121.
Gill said the shift from paddy had given a strong start to the state's crop diversification plan.
Keen to shift 12 lakh hectares from water-guzzling paddy to other crops, the state government has finalised a Rs 7,500-crore action plan and submitted it to the union agriculture ministry for approval. Presently, 28 lakh hectares are under paddy cultivation in Punjab. The state government wants to bring it down to 16 lakh hectares over the next five years.
The action plan includes increasing the area under cotton and basmati cultivation by 2 lakh hectares each. Both crops consume less water as compared to traditional paddy. Besides, the area under maize has been proposed to be increased by 4 lakh hectares; sugarcane, 1.70 lakh hectares; pulses, 0.70 lakh hectares; fruits and vegetables, 0.85 lakh hectares; agro forestry, 1.45 lakh hectares; and green fodder, 0.50 lakh hectares.