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Posted at: Dec 2, 2019, 7:26 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2019, 7:26 AM (IST)

New wheat varieties offer hope to farmers

New wheat varieties offer hope to farmers
A wheat field swarming with egrets at Mangali village in Hisar district. Tribune photo

Deepender Deswal

Even as wheat variety HD2967, developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), continues to be popular among farmers due to its high yield, they now have new options of seed varieties like HD3226, WH1184 and DBW187 this rabi season and are hoping to get better returns.

Agriculture experts say that though HD2967 has been a good choice due to a high yield for the past several years, it will be interesting to observe the performance of the new varieties that have been released for sowing by three institutions.

Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (HAU), Hisar, has released WH1184, which is highly resistant to yellow and brown rust, while the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR), Karnal, has released DWB187, which is said to be the highest yielding variety developed in the country so far. HD3226, launched last year by the IARI, too, is being preferred by the farmers.      

Dr Om Prakash Bishnoi, a wheat scientist at HAU, says WH1184 is a bread wheat variety with an average yield of 61.3 quintals per hectare and potential yield of 70.02 quintals. “It has high protein content of 13.02 per cent,” he says. Dr Bishnoi states that HAU has also offered another variety, WH1142, which is cultivable under restricted irrigation and medium input costs like fertilisers, though it has an average yield of 48 quintals per hectare.

Farmers, however, say they have been banking on HD2967 and it has not let them down. “The variety is good and the yield is better than that of the previous seeds. Fortunately, wheat has not got affected by any major disease or rust in the past couple of years in this region,” says Ramandeep, a farmer of Kirtan village. “Wheat cultivation does not require experimentation as we have been sowing the crop for generations. Though better seed and technology have changed the package and practices of the crop, farmers find it easier to cultivate the crop which not only provides whole-year quota of foodgrains but also helps the family economically as the surplus produce is easily sold in the market at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) without any fuss, unlike other crops, he says, adding that some farmers have brought the new variety from HAU for sowing but they will wait for the end of the season before commenting on its qualities.

Satyawan, a farmer of Mangali village in Hisar district, says he has preferred to sow the desi variety on his 2-acre land this time. “I will keep the produce for domestic consumption. I know that it will have comparatively less yield but the desi variety is better in nutrition value and taste,” he added. Satyawan said that he had heard about the new variety of Karan-Vandana (DBW187). “Some farmers have sown this variety. However, anything conclusive can be said about it only after harvesting,” he says.

Dr Joginder Singh, a wheat scientist with the IIWBR, posted at the institute’s farmhouse in Hisar, says Karan-Vandana has proved to be the highest yielding crop. He, however, advised the farmers that they should get the soil testing done and contact agriculture officers before taking a decision about sowing this variety of wheat. “Every variety has slightly different package and practices and the farmers must adhere to the advice of the agriculture scientists for each particular variety for a better yield,” he adds.

Haryana is a major contributor of wheat to the Central pool. During the Green Revolution, farmers, agriculture scientists and the government contributed to make Haryana a leading state in wheat production.

However, farmers are concerned over the dwindling returns and want consistent profit in wheat cultivation, which is the sole means of livelihood for many of them. Despite reaching almost the wheat plateau with the availability of good varieties of seed, the agricultural sector is passing through a crisis due to the double whammy of rising input costs and the vagaries of nature. The low returns have narrowed the farmers’ profit margin, which is highly inadequate to sustain a family. Ramandeep says, “Being the main foodgrain crop in the rabi season, wheat has been the mainstay of the economy of the average and small farmers in the state. By sowing wheat in the rabi season, the farmers not only get the annual quota of foodgrains for their family but also expect financial returns by way of selling the surplus produce to meet their financial requirements.”

A study by the Department of Agricultural Economics, HAU, about the economics of rabi crops 2018-19 has revealed the pathetic condition of wheat-growing farmers. The report, compiled on the basis of the sampled farms, mentions that the average return of farmers is 20.05 quintals per acres, with a cultivation cost of Rs 33,500 and a gross return of Rs 42,760 per acre. “How can a farmer sustain his family of 3-4 persons with an income of less than Rs 10,000 in six months,” asks Ramandeep.

Farmers say they cannot solely bank on the wheat produce for a livelihood. Farm scientists maintain that the wheat harvest is important for the food safety of the country.

Dr RS Dalal, former secretary of the Haryana Kisan Aayog, observes that during the Green Revolution, wheat sowing was promoted for making the country self-sustained in foodgrain production. Extensive and intensive research were carried out and the farmers, the government and agriculture scientists played their part. However, wheat has reached a plateau in the region and genetic potential seems to have been achieved. “Per-day output — in terms of four-and-a-half month crop — is better in terms of productivity in India in comparison to European countries that have 6-8 months’ wheat crop season.” Besides, he says, eastern states are also growing wheat and thus the dependence on Haryana and Punjab has reduced now. Moreover, the wheat-producing states are at a loss and consuming states are gaining under the GST regime, thus adversely affecting the economy of states such as Haryana.

Dr Dalal states that the processing industry needs to be encouraged in Haryana. “Agri business and agri industry are mere slogans for the government; the policies are detrimental to farmers. As a result, no agro industry has come up in the past five years,” he says.

“Haryana has just one biscuit unit — in Bahadurgarh — which is not good enough. The bread bakery biscuit industry must be encouraged,” he adds.

He suggests that the scientists should also continue their research on wheat, especially in the direction of developing varieties which are resistant to climate change and can withstand the vagaries of weather like hail, rain and strong winds.

Dr Ram Kumar, an agriculture scientist and a progressive farmer, states that the average yield of wheat has been improving. He, however, stresses on the diversification of crops, stating that castor (arandi) crop has been picking up in Sirsa and Fatehabad districts that can fetch a gross return of Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh per acre. It has a low input cost and also improves the soil fertility. South Haryana, having low irrigation facility, has good scope for the castor crop, he adds.

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