Paddy farmers and millers are sceptical about the Centre's move to promote use of certain hybrid seeds as they worry these will produce high percentage of broken rice.
The Centre is promoting hybrid varieties through various programmes highlighting that these need less water and time to ripen. It has, however, banned some hybrid varieties, including PAU-201. Except PAU-201, the other banned varieties were sown by farmers across the state, but the results were less than satisfactory.
During the 2011 season, farmers found that rice from hybrid varieties had twice the percentage of broken grains as traditional varieties. Agricultural experts and millers said these hybrid varieties became more prone to breakage with time, especially after March 31.
Data available with the agriculture office in Chandigarh, shows that in the main paddy growing districts - Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, Muktsar and Kapurthala - the percentage of broken rice from hybrid varieties was more than 55%. According to norms, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) can accept produce from rice millers containing up to 25% of broken grains.
Millers blame the FCI for not taking up the issue of hybrid seeds with the Centre, which is promoting these varieties. "The union ministry of food and civil supplies is promoting the use of hybrid varieties as they use less water," Tarsem Saini, president of Punjab Rice Millers Association, said.
"But FCI, the central procurement agency that operates under this ministry, has failed to convince it that hybrid seeds are not procurement-friendly because of their high percentage of broken grains."
Saini said the biggest problem with hybrid varieties was that their quality deteriorated with time during storage.
Millers have suggested that the union food ministry, FCI and the agriculture ministry study in detail the effects of sowing these varieties and the quality of their produce before promoting them among farmers.
"If hybrid varieties continue to be used without trials, a situation similar to the one in 2009-10 may arise when PAU-201 was sown," Saini said. "PAU-201 had such a large percentage of broken grains that farmers protested and millers refused to stock the produce. The Centre had to ban it."