Paddy, so far a water-guzzling crop behind the diving groundwater level in Punjab, has tuned a new leaf in the hands of progressive farmers.
Water, fertilisers, and pesticides-the new formula saves the biggest indiscriminate inputs in the traditional farming of rice. Thanks to some young development officers in the agriculture department, tillers also have the SRI (system of rice intensification) mantra.
The new system of the cultivation of paddy and basmati rice offers farmers a chance to not only save water but also increase the yield by up to 20%. "Pan Punjab, paddy fields are under 3 to 4 inches of stagnant water. When the crop will begin to ripen; the level will be knee-deep," said Jaswinder Singh Brar, agriculture development officer of Moga. "Under SRI, the irrigation is intermittent, so that the roots are aerated and grow healthy."
Thanks to the new technique, the grains in a panicle gain number and weight. Moga district has a plot dedicated to this experiment. Wide spacing gives the plant more air and sunlight to grow. The plant's absorption and intake of nutrients improves. "In the conventional way, holding water in the field deprives the roots of air," said ADO Brar. "The bed should have soil particles, air and moisture in equal proportion. Paddy will survive even in standing water, but for its health, it needs to breathe."
Progressive farmers control weed by turning it into soil with the help of the "weeder" machine. "We keep the row-to-row and plant-to-plant distance a consistent 10x10 inches (25x25 cm)," said Gurpreet Singh progressive farmer from Menian. Avtar Singh, another progressive farmer in the village, grows 16 plants per square metre using SRI method. "If there is any doubt about the survival of the plant, the farmer can plant two on each hill," he said. "The 33 to 40 hills per sq m with four to five plants per hill, characteristic of the conventional method, is there in SRI as well. However, puddling by tractor is avoided. The field is first watered and then young, 8- to 12-day-old seedlings are transplanted."
Raise the nursery with utmost care, Harpreet Singh, chief agriculture officer of Moga, has advised farmers. "Take care also while transplanting the seed and check whether it is damaged. Pulling soil together with the seedling and cleaning the root before sowing allows it to grow fast and healthy," he said. "Irrigate the field lightly either the same day or the day after transplanting. This is good for the plant's root system."