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Tales from the farm: ‘Officials don’t care how their solutions hit the sowing cycle'

ByJayashree Nandi
Oct 17, 2022 03:09 PM IST

The drive from Haryana’s Hisar to Sirsa and onward to Faridkot district in Punjab is flanked by green, young paddy crop interspersed with golden fields ready to be harvested.

Shahpur Begu, Sirsa: Hira Singh and Gurlal Singh, from a prosperous farming family in Sirsa’s Begu village are preparing to harvest their 17-18 PUSA Basmati paddy crop towards the end of this month. They will have to then sow wheat during the 15-day window between November 1 and 15. The brothers will set fire to the paddy stubble as soon as the crop is harvested.

PREMIUM
Hira Singh and Gurlal Singhin their farm in Sirsa’s Begu village. (HT Photo)

The brothers are among the majority of farmers in Punjab and Haryana that will set fire to paddy stubble later this month after the late sowing paddy varieties are harvested. The drive from Haryana’s Hisar to Sirsa and onward to Faridkot district in Punjab is flanked by green, young paddy crop interspersed with golden fields ready to be harvested. The greens are mostly late harvesting paddy varieties, whose harvest has been delayed further by unseasonal rains in September and October.

Farmers in these districts, which record among the highest crop stubble fires every year according to the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), say hundreds of farmers will set fire to the paddy stubble during the end of October and early November. They burn so as to not incur expenses associated with use of multiple stubble management machines, very short time available before the rabi (winter) crop is sown in the first week of November; the lack of transportation services to ship out stubble that has been cut and baled; and other systemic issues, including the lack of financial incentives.

The brothers Singh own about 18 acres of farmland of which paddy grows on 12 acres ; the rest is cotton. The heavy, unseasonal rain in September has helped their paddy crop which is a late harvesting variety by providing adequate water to the dry soil. It damaged the crop elsewhere in the district where paddy was ready for harvest. But the brothers will not attempt to source seeders or balers to manage their paddy stubble.

“Some stubble management machines have reached the panchayat. But how can two-three machines help manage stubble in the entire village? The sarpanch will make them available to a select few. We will not even attempt getting machines here because it just doesn’t work for us. When you cut the stubble and bury it in the ground it leads to pest infestation. The government has only considered the stubble burning issue but not bothered about how these solutions will impact the wheat cycle. The seeders and balers come at a steep cost. The seeders for example will cost us 2,500 per acre for renting and balers haven’t reached our village at all. The only solution with farmers like us is to set fire on the stubble,” explained Gurlal Singh.

The brothers planted cotton over around 6 acres but the crop has failed. “They sold us the seeds saying these are Bt cotton seeds but they turned out to be spurious. The crop is infested now. This cannot be sold in the market. We will not invest any further in managing stubble and multiplying our debt. The paddy crop is anyway turning out to be very expensive,” added Hira Singh.

They said there is a general perception that the basmati stubble gets decomposed easily, adding that this not in the case of 17-18 basmati varieties.

“Paddy growing in this parched region involves very high costs. We are stuck in a vicious cycle of digging deeper and deeper for water and increasing the use of pesticides. Each pesticide costs around 2,000 per spray per acre. Totally 6-7 pesticide sprays are used which costs 12,000 to 15,000 per acre. The sprays for hopper and fungus are a must. Our condition is so pathetic that when we used the PUSA decomposer to manage stubble that also led to fungal infestation for which we had to procure more sprays otherwise our wheat crop would have failed last year. Labour costs are around 700 to 800 per day per acre. Which farmer will invest in more machines to manage paddy stubble? Debt-ridden farmers will not invest in these fixes,” said Hira Singh. All the seven blocks in Sirsa district are in a critical state in terms of groundwater availability; six have been categorised as ‘over-exploited’ by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). All blocks in neighbouring Fatehabad except one are also ‘over-exploited’ which means that there is no more room for groundwater extraction here; yet paddy agriculture continues to be dependent on tubewell water.

In Barnala, about 95km from Begu, some farmers will try to manage stubble by using stubble management machinery. Gurcharan Singh in his 70s is trying his best to follow government regulations even though it means a financial loss. “I will spend around 1,200 to 1,500 per acre to clear the stubble and then hire balers which will cost me 2,000 to 2,500 per acre. I will pay others for transporting my stubble away but I will not be paid anything in return. I have taken one acre of land for lease at the cost of 70,000 and then spent 15,000 on inputs. It doesn’t make any sense for me to spend on the baler but I am doing it to follow rules,” he said.

Haryana government had announced an incentive of 1,000 per acre for ex situ and in situ management of crop stubble last year.

Situation on the ground

In many parts of Haryana, both the paddy and cotton crop has been affected this year by unseasonal rain in September leading to pest infestation. “The water has not yet drained and the paddy has decomposed in many parts of Sirsa and neighbouring districts. Insurance claims are settled for two-year-old losses and we get 25% of 10% of the loss claimed, if at all. Farmers face individual losses depending on their crop but insurance companies will compensate only if there is loss in the entire area. That’s one of the main reasons for increasing debt,” said Bittu Budania, another farmer in neighbouring Nezia Khera.

Budania has considered diversifying his crop. “At the most we can grow vegetables. For vegetables you need more labour, seeds are very expensive and the tubewell water in this region is not suitable for vegetables. We have no supply of freshwater.”

Kulvinder Singh in Kotli will harvest his paddy soon. He has also considered using the baler. “Who will transport the bales even if I make them? The bales will also have to be set on fire. So, we basically make bales and set it on fire because nobody picks them up. If you leave the bales on the farm there will be a rat infestation that destroys the wheat crop.”

The ground situation is very similar in Punjab. There is palpable discontent against the Centre and Aam Admi Party at the state level. “Please visit Jira where a liquor factory is polluting our groundwater. All the waste water is being discharged into the ground. No government has stopped them. They can go against farmers who are compelled to burn the stubble because of governments own policies. The government will have to face a huge backlash from Punjab farmers on this,” said Inderjeet Singh, leader, Bharatiya Kisan Ekta at Bajakhana near Bathinda. Singh said there was a direction from Punjab government to sow paddy late towards end of June so as to manage water resources for the crop effectively but this also has led to late harvesting of paddy in many areas. “Wheat will have to be sown between November 1 and 25. Where is the time?” he asked.

He pointed to Jagsir Singh, who tried following the government’s recommendations on stubble management. “I used the machine to cut the stubble and buried it in the ground then I had to deal with a massive pest infestation on my farm. I used a lot of sprays to deal with it. I am not going to try that anymore,” said Singh.

The policy of CAQM in NCR and adjoining areas, released in July has stipulated time-bound targets for management of stubble burning in north-western states this year.

State governments of Punjab, Haryana, NCR districts of Uttar Pradesh have been given a target of managing 60% of the total straw generated through various in-situ and ex-situ straw management options by December 31 according to the plan. “Already around 50% of the paddy stubble is being managed. It’s a matter of 10% to 15% more which we are hoping we can achieve this year,” said a senior official of CAQM who asked not to be named.

By December 31, 2024, CAQM has assigned a target of managing 80% of paddy stubble through in-situ and ex-situ options and by December 31, 2026, 100% of paddy stubble will be managed which means no stubble will be burnt.

Punjab and Haryana collectively contribute about 19 million tonnes of non-Basmati paddy annually. The most instances of stubble burning are in Sangrur, Moga, Firozpur, Ludhiana, Patiala, Barnala, Bhatinda, Muktsar and Tarn Taran in Punjab and Karnal, Kaithal, Kurukshetra, Fatehabad, Jind and Sirsa in Haryana according to CAQM.

When asked about how CAQM will deal with stubble fires over the next one month, the senior official added: “The agriculture ministry and the governments of Punjab and Haryana are responsible for in-situ crop residue management. They will have to make sure farmers do not burn stubble.” According to this official, this year “there will be more focus on ex-situ stubble management activities. There will be a push across states for utilisation of stubble for biomass power production, bio-ethanol, compressed biogas production and industrial boilers.” In-situ management options of paddy straw include use of bio-decomposers and mechanisation that can help deal with paddy straw such as happy seeders and super seeders; and ex-situ management options include using paddy straw as fuel for industrial boilers, thermal power plants, among others.

Shahpur Begu, Sirsa: Hira Singh and Gurlal Singh, from a prosperous farming family in Sirsa’s Begu village are preparing to harvest their 17-18 PUSA Basmati paddy crop towards the end of this month. They will have to then sow wheat during the 15-day window between November 1 and 15. The brothers will set fire to the paddy stubble as soon as the crop is harvested.

PREMIUM
Hira Singh and Gurlal Singhin their farm in Sirsa’s Begu village. (HT Photo)

The brothers are among the majority of farmers in Punjab and Haryana that will set fire to paddy stubble later this month after the late sowing paddy varieties are harvested. The drive from Haryana’s Hisar to Sirsa and onward to Faridkot district in Punjab is flanked by green, young paddy crop interspersed with golden fields ready to be harvested. The greens are mostly late harvesting paddy varieties, whose harvest has been delayed further by unseasonal rains in September and October.

Farmers in these districts, which record among the highest crop stubble fires every year according to the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), say hundreds of farmers will set fire to the paddy stubble during the end of October and early November. They burn so as to not incur expenses associated with use of multiple stubble management machines, very short time available before the rabi (winter) crop is sown in the first week of November; the lack of transportation services to ship out stubble that has been cut and baled; and other systemic issues, including the lack of financial incentives.

The brothers Singh own about 18 acres of farmland of which paddy grows on 12 acres ; the rest is cotton. The heavy, unseasonal rain in September has helped their paddy crop which is a late harvesting variety by providing adequate water to the dry soil. It damaged the crop elsewhere in the district where paddy was ready for harvest. But the brothers will not attempt to source seeders or balers to manage their paddy stubble.

“Some stubble management machines have reached the panchayat. But how can two-three machines help manage stubble in the entire village? The sarpanch will make them available to a select few. We will not even attempt getting machines here because it just doesn’t work for us. When you cut the stubble and bury it in the ground it leads to pest infestation. The government has only considered the stubble burning issue but not bothered about how these solutions will impact the wheat cycle. The seeders and balers come at a steep cost. The seeders for example will cost us 2,500 per acre for renting and balers haven’t reached our village at all. The only solution with farmers like us is to set fire on the stubble,” explained Gurlal Singh.

The brothers planted cotton over around 6 acres but the crop has failed. “They sold us the seeds saying these are Bt cotton seeds but they turned out to be spurious. The crop is infested now. This cannot be sold in the market. We will not invest any further in managing stubble and multiplying our debt. The paddy crop is anyway turning out to be very expensive,” added Hira Singh.

They said there is a general perception that the basmati stubble gets decomposed easily, adding that this not in the case of 17-18 basmati varieties.

“Paddy growing in this parched region involves very high costs. We are stuck in a vicious cycle of digging deeper and deeper for water and increasing the use of pesticides. Each pesticide costs around 2,000 per spray per acre. Totally 6-7 pesticide sprays are used which costs 12,000 to 15,000 per acre. The sprays for hopper and fungus are a must. Our condition is so pathetic that when we used the PUSA decomposer to manage stubble that also led to fungal infestation for which we had to procure more sprays otherwise our wheat crop would have failed last year. Labour costs are around 700 to 800 per day per acre. Which farmer will invest in more machines to manage paddy stubble? Debt-ridden farmers will not invest in these fixes,” said Hira Singh. All the seven blocks in Sirsa district are in a critical state in terms of groundwater availability; six have been categorised as ‘over-exploited’ by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). All blocks in neighbouring Fatehabad except one are also ‘over-exploited’ which means that there is no more room for groundwater extraction here; yet paddy agriculture continues to be dependent on tubewell water.

In Barnala, about 95km from Begu, some farmers will try to manage stubble by using stubble management machinery. Gurcharan Singh in his 70s is trying his best to follow government regulations even though it means a financial loss. “I will spend around 1,200 to 1,500 per acre to clear the stubble and then hire balers which will cost me 2,000 to 2,500 per acre. I will pay others for transporting my stubble away but I will not be paid anything in return. I have taken one acre of land for lease at the cost of 70,000 and then spent 15,000 on inputs. It doesn’t make any sense for me to spend on the baler but I am doing it to follow rules,” he said.

Haryana government had announced an incentive of 1,000 per acre for ex situ and in situ management of crop stubble last year.

Situation on the ground

In many parts of Haryana, both the paddy and cotton crop has been affected this year by unseasonal rain in September leading to pest infestation. “The water has not yet drained and the paddy has decomposed in many parts of Sirsa and neighbouring districts. Insurance claims are settled for two-year-old losses and we get 25% of 10% of the loss claimed, if at all. Farmers face individual losses depending on their crop but insurance companies will compensate only if there is loss in the entire area. That’s one of the main reasons for increasing debt,” said Bittu Budania, another farmer in neighbouring Nezia Khera.

Budania has considered diversifying his crop. “At the most we can grow vegetables. For vegetables you need more labour, seeds are very expensive and the tubewell water in this region is not suitable for vegetables. We have no supply of freshwater.”

Kulvinder Singh in Kotli will harvest his paddy soon. He has also considered using the baler. “Who will transport the bales even if I make them? The bales will also have to be set on fire. So, we basically make bales and set it on fire because nobody picks them up. If you leave the bales on the farm there will be a rat infestation that destroys the wheat crop.”

The ground situation is very similar in Punjab. There is palpable discontent against the Centre and Aam Admi Party at the state level. “Please visit Jira where a liquor factory is polluting our groundwater. All the waste water is being discharged into the ground. No government has stopped them. They can go against farmers who are compelled to burn the stubble because of governments own policies. The government will have to face a huge backlash from Punjab farmers on this,” said Inderjeet Singh, leader, Bharatiya Kisan Ekta at Bajakhana near Bathinda. Singh said there was a direction from Punjab government to sow paddy late towards end of June so as to manage water resources for the crop effectively but this also has led to late harvesting of paddy in many areas. “Wheat will have to be sown between November 1 and 25. Where is the time?” he asked.

He pointed to Jagsir Singh, who tried following the government’s recommendations on stubble management. “I used the machine to cut the stubble and buried it in the ground then I had to deal with a massive pest infestation on my farm. I used a lot of sprays to deal with it. I am not going to try that anymore,” said Singh.

The policy of CAQM in NCR and adjoining areas, released in July has stipulated time-bound targets for management of stubble burning in north-western states this year.

State governments of Punjab, Haryana, NCR districts of Uttar Pradesh have been given a target of managing 60% of the total straw generated through various in-situ and ex-situ straw management options by December 31 according to the plan. “Already around 50% of the paddy stubble is being managed. It’s a matter of 10% to 15% more which we are hoping we can achieve this year,” said a senior official of CAQM who asked not to be named.

By December 31, 2024, CAQM has assigned a target of managing 80% of paddy stubble through in-situ and ex-situ options and by December 31, 2026, 100% of paddy stubble will be managed which means no stubble will be burnt.

Punjab and Haryana collectively contribute about 19 million tonnes of non-Basmati paddy annually. The most instances of stubble burning are in Sangrur, Moga, Firozpur, Ludhiana, Patiala, Barnala, Bhatinda, Muktsar and Tarn Taran in Punjab and Karnal, Kaithal, Kurukshetra, Fatehabad, Jind and Sirsa in Haryana according to CAQM.

When asked about how CAQM will deal with stubble fires over the next one month, the senior official added: “The agriculture ministry and the governments of Punjab and Haryana are responsible for in-situ crop residue management. They will have to make sure farmers do not burn stubble.” According to this official, this year “there will be more focus on ex-situ stubble management activities. There will be a push across states for utilisation of stubble for biomass power production, bio-ethanol, compressed biogas production and industrial boilers.” In-situ management options of paddy straw include use of bio-decomposers and mechanisation that can help deal with paddy straw such as happy seeders and super seeders; and ex-situ management options include using paddy straw as fuel for industrial boilers, thermal power plants, among others.

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