Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Punjab boasts of a new crop; Summer moong

Punjab, the seat of Green Revolution is now making its real tryst with destiny in the direction of long awaiting crop diversification in the region, which has witnessed no or, little scope for cropping system other than wheat-rice over the years.

The good news is that as per a recently released agriculture department statistics, the area under summer moong is about to touch a remarkable mark of one lakh ha in the state. The area under summer moong has increased 10 times more than the area under the crop during the prevalent moong season, which is from May-end to July. On earlier instances, acreage under moong dal has never gone beyond 10,000 to 11,000 hectares.

The introduction and large coverage under the pulse crop has really promises manifold benefits from the point of farm productivity, i.e., efficient utilisation of time and space, soil health and nutrients replenishment, additional source of income etc. with the least requirement of inputs and management.

In real sense, the prevalent Rice-Wheat monopoly has caused more damages to the farmers of the region than doing any good as in recent days the state has witnessed pleortha of problems like, plateuing yields in wheat and rice, unimaginable loss of production resources like soil fertility, fast depleting ground water table, spikes in the market prices etc. over the years, which is blamed mainly to the traditional practices being followed for the water guzzling crops like, rice, wheat and sugarcane.

Some resource conservation technology like zero tillage/ conservation agriculture for wheat and dry seeding of rice has been introduced to save the day, but to the point of revigouration of soil health and going for overall farm profitability these proved to be much unqualified.

Early paddy being a water guzzler, the government passed the Punjab Preservation of Sub Soil Water Act so that paddy is grown close to rainy season, in mid-June. Following this, the fields would remain vacant for two months, from mid-April to mid-June.

Looking into the lurking opportunity, through ATMA project the summer moong has been officially introduced in the state and only within a year’s time it has covered almost one lakh ha area, which would be a success story worth popularising at wider scale and emulated by other states where such similar situation exists.

Before the 2009 Act was passed, the farmers of the state, after harvesting wheat in April, would either resort to early paddy sowing during peak summer in May or leave their fields without any crop for a month.

PUSA Vishal, PUSA Baisakhi, Muskan, K-851 and SML-668 varieties of Moong are sown on a large scale in this summer season. These varieties get ready in 60 to 70 days and give yield three to four quintals per acre. The summer Moong are sown as early as possible so that it might be harvested before the rainy season sets in.

Earlier also, Punjab Agricultural University has received a research project in 2002 from the Asian Vegetable Research Development Centre (AVRDC), Taiwan for popularising summer moong in several parts of the country, starting with Punjab, in the name of “Popularisation of extra-short duration moongbean cultivars”. This project proved immensely successful in popularising summer moong cultivation in Punjab as its cultivation not only helps to diversify the rice-wheat cropping system but also improves soil health by incorporating nitrogen in the soil.

Pulses provide a significant part of India’s nutritional needs. Yet India’s production of pulses has remained stagnant, making the country increasingly dependent upon imports.

For centuries now, Indian farmers have adopted pulse cultivation as a traditional way of mitigating this risk.

In Indian condition pulses hold significant position, mainly due to more vegetarian population, widely reported cases of malnutrition, cheapest source of easily available protein supplement etc.

Over the years, rice and wheat yields have improved two-fold and even three-fold in the case of wheat, as a result of government schemes and the green revolution effect that has brought better seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, support prices, subsidies, etc within the ambit of farmers. Yet pulse crop yields have remained at a level of only 5–6 quintals per acre, very low compared to those of rice (33 q/acre) or cotton (12 q/acre). Little wonder then that most farmers focus on growing crops where returns are higher.

There seems to be a yawning gap between what is achievable in pulse production and the grassroots reality. Agricultural research in India has produced several high-yield varieties (HYV) of pulse seeds that can improve yields two-fold and are of shorter duration, thus allowing farmers to grow two or even three crops in a year. Drought-tolerant and disease-tolerant seeds are being developed that cut risk considerably. Proper seed-treatment and crop-protection techniques are available that can control disease and pest infestation.

The crop takes only 60 to 65 days to maturity so the extra short duration varieties fit in very well within the available window of time.

Nearly four to five quintals of pulses can be grown on an acre of land after spending Rs 6,000 to 7000 which ensures a farmer a return of not less than Rs 40,000 to 50,000 from every acre within two months.

Soil health improvement and nutrients replenishment is another major reason for going with the pulse, which adds organic matter to the substratum after decomposition, the crop litter acts as natural/ biological mulching material thus ensuring moisture conservation, weed management and minimum nutrient losses. Being a legume crop, it’s having inherent ability of biological nitrogen fixation through the intervention of some microbial agents and thus considerably reduces the fertiliser requirement for the crop growing for the succeeding crops also.

It is grown solely on the available residual moisture in the soil and with the involvement of least farm inputs. Summer moong can also be taken as an intercrop, owing to its short maturity period and fast growing habit without much agronomic care and management. Weed problem are also well taken care of, mainly on account of its smothering growth habit and ground covering ability, well within 2-3 weeks from the time of sowing.

Pulse crops are environmentally sustainable and have a positive impact on the land. They also helps in the mitigation of global warming phenomena by lowering the levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the air. Pulses are 18–24 per cent protein, thus providing India’s population with an alternative to animal-based protein i.e., meat, eggs, and milk.

Good ensured returns due to higher pulse market prices.

So, in totality, with the least demand of farm input; Fertilizers, irrigation, labour, capital and pesticides, it is right candidate for the breaking the jinx of rice-wheat monopoly in the region and making the operations more viable and farming more remunerative.

All time high pulses production

Pulses production has been hovering around 13 -15 million tonnes during last decade, while annual domestic demand has risen to 18-19 million tonnes. During 2010- 11, the production of pulses in India, estimated at 17.29 million tonnes, is all-time record. The previous pulses production record was 14.91 million tonnes during the year 2003-04. Among kharif pulses (7.3 million tonnes), pigeonpea (3.15 million tonnes) and blackgram (1.82 million tonnes) production are slated to hit all time higher. It is also estimated that there will be bumper harvest of rabi pulses this year. The all time high production record of 17.29 miiliion tones could be possible primarily due to availability of quality seeds to pulse growers. Apart from availability of quality seeds of high yielding varieties, the strong technology back-up, favourable monsoon, increase in minimum support prices and effective government programmes helped for increasing production of pulses in the country.

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