With only two days left for the start of paddy transplantation, farmers are confused over whether to sow normal varieties or basmati varieties during this kharif season.
The basmati experiment went miserably wrong for farmers last kharif season. An increased production coupled with low demand meant prices of the crop plummeted to almost Rs 1800- Rs2000 per quintal. Agriculture experts said that on the back of this experience, farmers may opt for the normal variety of paddy.
Given the time that it would take different varieties to mature however, it is likely that normal or non-basmati rice would be sown. They take 160-180 days to mature but basmati less than 130 days. If the conditions are favourable, farmers could opt to sow basmati sometime in July.
The failure of the Punjab government to back the basmati variety, which it had introduced two years ago under its diversification plans, by ensuring proper marketing and Minimum Support Price (MSP) have not gone down well with farmers.
With the last season marred by exploitation at the hands of private traders and dissatisfaction among farmers, the Punjab agriculture department has been saying not to increase the area under basmati this year.
One agriculture scientist believed that maintaining a more reasonable area under cultivation would help farmers properly market and get a suitable amount for their yield at end of the season, besides avoiding glut-like situation.
"The year 2013 was very good for farmers as far as basmati was concerned, but after last year's chaos, exploitation and low grain quality after shelling, farmers are reluctant to go with basmati this time", said Arvinder Singh Mann, agriculture development officer.
Due to a glut like situation last year, the farmers were being paid Rs 1800-2200 per quintal on an average against payment of more than Rs 2,800-3600 in 2013 for different basmati varieties, and Rs 1,310 per quintal for non-basmati varieties.
Farmers had taken to PUSA 1509, a variety of basmati rice, on a large scale last year. This upset the supply and demand balance.
In Patiala, farmers had almost doubled the area under basmati cultivation in 2014 - from 19,500 hectares to 37,500 hectares. With no fixed MSP, farmers were forced to look to private rice traders and commission agents.
Farmers, who had grown other crops including maize, cereals and pulses, also met the same fate.
Popular Normal varieties: PUSA 44, PR 121, 122, 114, 124
Basmati varieties: PUSA Punjab 1509 and 1121