For greater than twenty years, farmer Ravindra Kajal cultivated rice the best way his forefathers had – each June he flooded his fields with water earlier than hiring a military of farmhands to plant paddy seedlings.
However a shortage of employees this yr due to the coronavirus compelled Mr Kajal to vary. He irrigated the sector simply sufficient to moisten the soil and leased a drilling machine to immediately sow seeds on his 9-acre plot.
“Since I used to be greater than snug with the tried-and-tested method of rising rice, I opted for the brand new technique with some trepidation,” mentioned Mr Kajal, 46, trying over his subject, inexperienced with rice saplings, in Raipur Jattan village in Haryana.
“However I’ve already saved round Rs 7,500 per acre as a result of I hardly spent on water and employees this yr,” he mentioned.
India is the world’s greatest exporter of rice and the world’s second-biggest producer after China. Throughout the nation’s grain bowl states of Haryana and neighbouring Punjab, 1000’s of farmers like Mr Kajal have been compelled by the coronavirus to mechanise planting.
They’re nonetheless cautious of the know-how and overturning the time-honoured use of guide labour.
However Kahan Singh Pannu, Punjab’s Agriculture Secretary, is satisfied a historic change is underway that might dramatically improve India’s rice output, which in flip might affect world markets.
“It’s a minimum of a revolution in Indian agriculture,” he informed Reuters.
Authorities officers say the so-called direct seeding of rice (DSR) technique might improve yields by about one-third and slash prices on employees and water.
The DSR machines permit farmers to develop greater than 30 saplings per sq. metre towards the standard 15 to 18 seedlings, mentioned Naresh Gulati, a state authorities farm official in Punjab.
Punjab is the house of the 1960s Inexperienced Revolution that led to a spike in crop yields. This yr, farmers there have used seed drilling machines to sow rice on greater than half 1,000,000 hectares, a giant improve in contrast with lower than 50,000 hectares in 2019, growers and authorities officers mentioned.
Mr Pannu expects DSR use to leap once more subsequent yr.
“Increasingly farmers are utilizing the DSR know-how which appears to be so promising that the complete 2.7 million hectares of Punjab’s rice space might come underneath it subsequent yr, which shall be a watershed for India’s rice manufacturing,” he mentioned.
Avinash Kishore, a analysis fellow on the Washington-based Worldwide Meals Coverage Analysis Institute (IFPRI), mentioned if this yr’s crop was good, DSR could be the best way ahead. “The dimensions of this yr’s shift to the DSR is a momentous change in rice cultivation in India,” he mentioned.
Sudhanshu Singh, a senior agronomist on the Worldwide Rice Analysis Institute within the Philippines, mentioned the shift to DSR was “one of many uncommon optimistic fallouts from COVID.”
Not one of the world’s main rice exporting nations – India, Vietnam and Thailand – makes important use of seeding machines.
They’ve come into play in a giant method in India this yr as a result of lots of of 1000’s of migrant labourers from Bihar and Jharkhand didn’t arrive within the northern grain belt for the 2020 planting season because of the coronavirus lockdown.
That pushed up the worth of native employees and made it extra economical for farmers to lease rice planting machines somewhat than pay for employed assist, mentioned Jaskaran Singh Mahal, a director on the Punjab Agricultural College.
Farm wages have gone up by Rs 1,500 an acre to about Rs 4,500 this yr, and growers want round half a dozen employees to transplant rice paddy on a one acre plot.
As compared, farmers can rent planting machines for Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre, which may cowl 25 to 30 acres in a day, rice growers mentioned.
“Aside from serving to us save on main overheads similar to water and labour, DSR is swift, in contrast to the previous technique which was tedious and time-consuming,” mentioned Devinder Singh Gill, a farmer in Punjab’s Moga district, well-known for its fragrant basmati rice.
The standard technique requires farmers to sow seeds in nurseries after which look forward to 20 to 30 days earlier than manually transplanting the seedlings into plantation fields which are ankle-deep in water.
Seeding machines permit farmers to bypass the nursery stage and plant straight into fields.
Water conservation is one other key attribute of DSR, which is essential in a principally dry, monsoon dependent nation like India.
Beneath the traditional technique, 3,000 to five,000 litres of water is utilized in India to provide 1 kg of rice – essentially the most water-thirsty crop – and DSR permits growers to chop water use by at the very least 50 per cent to 60 per cent, farmers and authorities officers mentioned.
The primary problem for farmers utilizing direct seeding machines is managing weeds, which require the spraying of herbicides via the season.
Nonetheless, even factoring within the additional prices of those purposes, the general value of cultivation is considerably decrease underneath DSR, mentioned Mr Kajal, the farmer in Haryana.
One other downside shall be that if the strategy is adopted throughout the farm belt, there shall be big unemployment within the japanese states subsequent yr.
However farmers say they are going to wait to see the harvest in October earlier than deciding whether or not to stay with the know-how subsequent yr.
“The brand new know-how results in quite a lot of saving on account of water and labour, however the true check lies in productiveness and farmers is not going to be absolutely satisfied except they see some rise of their yields,” mentioned Ashok Singh, a rice farmer.