Against the general perception that agricultural growth has slowed down in Punjab since past the few years, experts at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, are of the view that technology and policies backed by state and central governments still drive agriculture, the 'mother of economic growth'.
Their view is corroborated by a recent study of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which has estimated that share of technology in farm varied from 17% to 32 %. "Technology supported by policy has been, and still remains the prime factor for agricultural growth in Punjab".
This means that similar to early mid-1960s, when agriculture entered a new phase with introduction of high-yielding varieties, the improved technology with government support still continues to impact agricultural productivity and production across the state.
These views have been expressed by PAU vice-chancellor BS Dhillon and director of extension education RS Sidhu, writing in the university's monthly magazine, Progressive Farming (September 2015) issue.
The two have concluded that "Punjab is still marching ahead in agricultural growth and that science, technology and agricultural growth have contributed significantly to enable the country attain self-sufficiency in food grains, particularly, in wheat and rice; thereby helping alleviate poverty to an extent and providing food and nutrition security".
The two, however, have stressed that focus now has to be on management of 'natural resources' which impact agriculture sector. For this, PAU is engaged in finding and developing suitable technologies that would ensure sustainability. In fact framing of Sub-soil Water Preservation Act, 2008, was as a result of the new strategies being worked out at PAU to conserve ground water, the key component of agricultural growth.
Dhillon and Sidhu said, "For better management of natural resources, the government provides 50% subsidy on all relevant machines and efficient use of water for irrigation."
Both of them talked on need for 'value addition' in the field of agriculture for future growth. They emphasised on crop diversification, which included dairy farming, fish farming, horticulture, vegetable cultivation (including poly-house methodology), and bee-keeping.
This diversification, they said, would lead to extra income to the farmers. For meeting the ever growing requirements of food, PAU has suggested higher funding for research, science and technology in farm sector.
While successfully meeting nation's challenges on food grain production, the authors admitted that Punjab has suffered badly due to wheat-paddy cycle, which has resulted in economic stress and ecological imbalance. This poses a threat to future of agriculture, as farming was becoming not only less profitable, but also less attractive to the rural youth.
Sangrur sees growth in bee-keeping
Exploring how much science and technology have contributed to farm growth and how far have farmers adopted the suggested diversification alternatives in Sangrur, it was found that besides the PAU's Krishi Vigyan Kendra, the state horticulture/agriculture departments have also played a role in Sangrur.
Today there are 250-odd honeybee farmers in Sangrur and majority of them are concentrated at Kandhargarh Channa and Bhalwan villages, which are called the 'honey clusters'. Between them, these farmers have a total of 33,890 boxes and produce 750 metric tonnes of honey, annually and around 90% of the total yield is exported to Canada and America. Honey is sold at Rs 100-135 per kg.
Shortly, majority of beekeepers would transport their honey boxes and move towards Bathinda where there is cotton cultivation and then to other fields where mustard cultivation is done. Flowers are the primary sources for bees to make honey. In beekeeping, transport and personal involvement is a must, as one has to carry bee boxes from one place to another where there are flowers.
Beekeeping is one of the several alternative subsidiary occupations which the government is encouraging the farmers to adopt and to improve their income, as part of its diversification schemes. To promote beekeeping, the Punjab government is also coming up with a production house at Jalandhar with a capacity of 3,000 metric tonnes yearly by February 2016.
Poly-houses for vegetable cultivation
Sangrur horticulture department lends all help to farmers of the district who opt for diversification. Besides beekeeping, the department is also promoting installation of poly houses for off-season vegetable cultivation and floriculture.
Horticulture development officer (HDO) Hardeep Singh said, "It depends on land holding of a farmer before we suggest him what subsidiary occupation he should opt for under the diversification scheme. In case of small farmer or landless individuals, department advises them to go in for beekeeping and in case of big farmers the department suggests poly houses."
He said, "The government gives Rs 80,000 as subsidy on maximum of 50 honey bee boxes whose total cost is around Rs 2 lakh. Moreover, PAU gives five-day training to the bee keeping farmers, as well as to those interested in poly houses. Mostly, it is the young farmers who are showing interest in these two occupations."
Talking about poly houses, he said, "The government gives 50% subsidy on a poly house whose actual cost is Rs 33 lakh, per acre. Till date, in Sangrur total 20 acres of land is under poly houses. Mainly these are in Malerkotla and Ahmedgarh sub-divisions. In poly houses, farmers grow Gerbera flowers, seedless cucumber, yellow and red capsicum. In all poly houses drip irrigation is used by the farmers."
"In case of farmers involved in cucumber cultivation, they get two crops in a year. It starts in March-April and crop is harvested in June-July and second flush is between September and October and harvesting month is December-January. A farmer can expect a yield of around 44 tonnes/per acre in a year and sells for Rs 40 per kg in the market. The total expense for poly house cultivation, including labour, manure and material comes to approximately Rs 2.50 lakh per annum," Hardeep Singh informed.
"Sowing of coloured capsicum begins in September and production starts in December which lasts up to July. In one acre of poly house, 10,000 plants are planted and cost of one plant is Rs 6. Farmers harvest 40 tonnes of yield/per acre and get Rs 20-25 per kg in the market. The input cost is also around Rs 3 lakh per annum," the HDO said.
Hardeep Singh admitted that in case of capsicum, farmers found it difficult to market the produce as the demand was more in metros than in small towns. "But department has made clusters in villages to cut down prices of transport and storing," he added.
Talking about In Gerbera farming, Hardeep Singh said, "Sowing starts in August and plucking starts in January. Around 25,000-26,000 plants are planted in one acre of poly house. The cost of one plant is Rs 35 and total cost comes to Rs 22 lakh. One Gerbera plant gives approximately 20 flowers in a year and age of one plant is three years. The farmers get Rs 2-6 per stick increases even up to Rs 8 in the marriage season."