Soil health cards help reduce fertiliser overuse
Growers who followed scientific recommendations based on their soil profile for at least a year, as part of a national programme, are not only growing more with less inputs, but they also have cut down cultivation costs.india Updated: Jan 01, 2018 23:12 IST
Indian farmers, who commonly overuse fertilisers in almost everything they grow, are being slowly nudged away from the dangerous practice, resulting in productivity gains, a study of the national soil-health-card scheme has shown.
Growers who followed scientific recommendations based on their soil profile for at least a year, as part of a national programme, are not only growing more with less inputs, but they also have cut down cultivation costs, the study involving 3,184 farmers across 199 villages in 16 states found.
Farmers planting cotton, paddy and soyabean — crops picked by the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in a study commissioned by the farm ministry — have managed to lower costs by 4-10%. They have also cut down on reliance on fertilisers. Net farmer incomes grew between 30% and 40% as a result, the study states.
The soil health card programme, a high-priority scheme, aims to replenish seriously degraded soils from over-fertilised agriculture. The government has distributed 100 million such cards, one to each farm household, and hopes to reach 20 million more in this year, according to farm minister Radha Mohan Singh. Their soils need to be tested every two years.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his monthly radio broadcast on November 27 last year, had set a target of reducing by half India’s annual urea consumption by 2022 through soil health cards.
The study revealed worrying degradation of soils across regions. Nitrogen, an essential constituent of all proteins, is scarce in soils of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu. Phosphorous, which helps plants to convert light into food, has grossly depleted in Himachal, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
It also said test results needed to be more promptly available to farmers and infrastructure ramped up for wider gains.
India heavily subsidises fertilisers, a policy initiated in the 1960s to kickstart the Green Revolution. Cheap availability has resulted in rampant use, particularly of urea, degrading soils to such an extent that yields have actually started to fall.
Farmers sprinkle several times the recommended dose, throwing the natural chemical composition of soil off-balance. Crops need a balanced diet, much like humans, of key fertilisers such as nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Overuse of one or the other is common.
The current consumption of NPK ratio is 6.7:2.4:1, which is highly skewed towards nitrogen as against an ideal ratio of 4:2:1. India consumed about 25.6 million tonne of fertilisers, mostly nitrogen (17 million tonne) followed by phosphorous (6 million tonne) and potassium (2.5 million tonne). In the case of cotton, “soil card since one year reduced fertiliser use significantly compared to farmers who possessed SHC (soil health cards) just three months back”, lead scientist A Amarender Reddy said.
Yields had increased by 7%, while costs were down by 5.1%. Overall, paddy farmers reduced urea use by about 21%, DAP by about 22% and potassium by 24%. Paddy yields went up by 5%. For soyabean farmers, there was no decrease in fertiliser consumption, but yields went up by 6%, while cost fell by 3%.
The SHC drive launched as a national scheme in 2015 seeks to promote a more judicious mix of fertilisers by testing soil samples of each farm household across the country on 12 parameters. The findings, recorded in these cards, show which ingredients are depleted or are present in excess and, accordingly, makes scientific recommendations on the right mix of fertilisers. The government set aside ₹169 crore in 2016-17 for the scheme.
To test soil, the country’s cropped area is divided into grids of 10 hectares (ha) for rain-dependent farms and 2.5 ha for irrigated land. One soil sample from each grid is taken and test results are distributed to farmers whose lands fall under the grid. The grid system will enable coverage of the country’s 141 million hectares of net-sown area.
The country spends close to Rs70,000 crore on fertilisers. According to government estimates, the subsidy amount stands at about Rs5,100 per farmer, resulting in excessive use, especially NPK, at the cost of micro-nutrients.