The Telangana Government has asked the farmers to advance sowings in both kharif and rabi seasons by 3-4 weeks so that they do not face problems due to untimely rains or hailstorms during the harvest time.
It is probably the first State to consider advancing sowing of paddy on the heels of climate change affecting agricultural production.
Recently, the Telangana Cabinet recently set up a sub-committee headed by Agriculture Minister S Niranjan Reddy to study the feasibility and come out with a set of recommendations on how to go about it. This, perhaps, is first such attempt by any State government in the country to attempt to advance the sowing seasons.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao reiterated the suggestion to advance sowing at the District Collectors’ meeting held in Hyderabad on Thursday.
‘The sowing process must be completed between May 25 to June 25. Similarly, the rabi sowings should be started by November 15 and competed in the following 2-3 weeks,’ he said.
This, in turn, would help advance the harvesting seasons by a month. ‘It would help the farmers protect themselves from untimely rains and hailstorms during the harvesting period, causing heavy losses,’ the Chief Minister said.
Official sources in New Delhi said States are free to decide on sowing of crops as agriculture is a State subject. However, Punjab and Haryana have banned sowing of paddy before June 1 in order to ensure that farmers do not exhaust depleted groundwater resources.
Analysts, on the other hand, see this as a political move so that the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) party will not be in trouble in case rains or floods affect paddy crop when the North-East monsoon sets in during October.
Elections to the Telangana Assembly are scheduled during the year-end. Another political angle to it is that in case Telangana faces problems again in the procurement of rice by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), BRS can play it up during elections, analysts said. Last year, Telangana faced problems in rice procurement as the Centre said it would not buy parboiled rice from the State.
Irrigation the key
‘It is good if the sowing is advanced before the monsoon arrives, provided the land has irrigation facilities for the germination of seeds. It has been observed that in many years, the later part of the season gets drier compared to the initial period. In the event of sowing in July, the crop does not get water in the later part of the season in the rainfed area,’ said a senior rice breeder at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
Just advancing the sowing period will not help. It must be accompanied by better technology. ‘For instance, CR 801 and CR 802 are paddy varieties that can survive without water for 22 days after germination and such climate-smart varieties have to be adopted,’ the scientist said.
R Jagadeeshwar, former Director of Research at the Prof. Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, early sowings in kharif were already in vogue in areas such as Nizamabad where farmers use borewell water for irrigation. ‘Technologies are available. Direct sowing of seeds (instead of growing nurseries and planting them later) would be an ideal method to advance the sowings. A good number of farmers have been doing this in Khammam and Nalgonda districts,’ he said.
Another scientist, on condition of anonymity, felt that it (advancing sowings) may not be suitable for all regions of the State. ‘It is suited for areas under assured irrigation facilities,’ he felt.
Two back-to-back bouts of heavy rains and hailstorms during February-April this year caused extensive damage to the crops in the State.
On his part, Rao asked district collectors and officials of the Agriculture Department to take measures to sensitise farmers on the need for advancing the sowing and harvesting seasons by a month. There was a misconception among farmers that the crop growth wouldn’t be healthy if sown during the winter.
He said farmers now can bank on abundant groundwater and 24-hour quality power and advance their sowings. The State has come up with irrigation projects such as Kondapochamma Sagar reservoir and Kaleswaram lift irrigation project.
Farmers, however, are not quite convinced about the idea. ‘Not all parts of the State have bankable groundwater. We don’t get monsoon rains till late June or mid-July,’ S Malla Reddy, a leader of Telangana Rythu Sangham, told businessline.
‘If you go for early sowings in the rabi season, the crop growth wouldn’t be at the optimum level. Farmers generally prefer to go for rabi sowings after January 15,’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister said there is a misconception among farmers that if paddy is harvested in November duringYasangi (Rabi) season, the fibre will not grow due to severe cold, it is not true. The Agriculture Department should sensitise farmers in this direction and make arrangements so that the crops grown due to untimely rains are not damaged and the grain does not get wet.
Another reason why the government is pushing for the advancement of sowings in the rabi season is the issue of rice breaking up during milling of paddy. Due to rising temperatures in late March and April, the grain gets brittle, adversely impacting the conversion rate (the quantity of paddy converted into rice after milling.)
With the grain getting brittle reducing the quantity of rice that they get, millers prefer to go for parboiled rice. However, the Centre has made it clear that it won’t be procuring parboiled rice since it doesn’t have enough takers in the country.
The issue, in fact, triggered a political row between the TRS Government and the BJP Government. The Centre said it would take only raw (white) rice, and not parboiled rice, in this procurement season.
The Telangana Government’s decision is seen as a move to make farmers harvest the produce in March itself so that the paddy-to-rice conversion rate is higher. This is the second time in three years that the Telangana Government is trying to intervene in the sowing process.
In May 2020, the Telangana government said it would decide what crops farmers in the State will grow as part of its efforts to make agriculture more profitable through scientific cultivation, based on market demands. But nothing was heard of it in 2021 after Telangana faced problems in helping farmers sell their produce.
This article has been republished from The Hindu Business Line