New Delhi: A relatively new production process called “zero tilling” is beginning to take root in the wheat-growing states of India, potentially increasing productivity as well as profit margins even as it cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
It comes at a time when growth in the yield of Indian cereals, especially wheat, has been stagnating.
Zero tilling, by definition, is a one-time operation in which a small drill places the seed and the fertilizer in a small furrow, saving the farmer a lot of time. “Zero tilling has been taken up by farmers in the Indo-Gangetic plains in a big way and the increasing area under zero tillage in the country reflects the demand of this technology. Almost 10% of agriculture in Haryana is already under zero tilling,” says J.C. Katyal, vice-chancellor, Haryana Agricultural University (HAU).
The area under zero tilling, first introduced in 1999-2000, has risen to more than 1,400,000 hectares in 2005-06 in Haryana.
Taking a cue from Haryana, Punjab too has begun encouraging farmers in the state. B.S. Sidhu, director of agriculture, Punjab, says that acreage under the scheme has been growing since it was introduced and it is being promoted under the diversification programme.
Data collected over eight years by HAU show that grain yield of wheat under zero tillage was more than conventional tillage, which returned an average yield of 5,000kg per hectare. In Uttarakhand, for instance, the average wheat yield advantage, compared to those generated under conventional tilling, was 200kg per hectare.
In Bihar, a study by the Agricultural Research Institute in Patna found that more than 300 villages have adopted this method, up from 33 villages in 2001-02. Bihar has reported yield advantages in the region of almost 350kg per hectare.
“It is a saying in Haryana, that the more you plough, the more you get. It has been an uphill task to get farmers to reject that notion but it has been worth it,” says Katyal.
Moreover, studies have shown that zero tilling also preserves the soil’s original character, unlike constant ploughing, which disturbs the soil and erodes natural nutrients. Scientists maintain that this is the best example of sustainable agriculture.
The indirect gains from zero tilling, which precludes the use of a tractor, are as significant when it comes to farmers’ profits, adds Katyal. “This means huge savings in terms of tractor maintenance, labour and diesel costs. About 30 litres of diesel are saved per hectare,” says R.K. Malik, also of HAU.
This saving is estimated at Rs2,700 per hectare in zero tilling. The per capita profitability in areas such as eastern Uttar Pradesh has been found to range from Rs3,800 to even Rs5,200 per hectare. Moreover, increase in profitability was more for small farm holdings than for medium and large farming areas. Farmers not only save on diesel, they save on seed cost and irrigation as well. “Less burning of diesel cuts down on pollution,” says Katyal. Reduction in diesel consumption of 60-80 litres per hectare cuts down 250 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
However, the drill, which costs Rs9,000 after the 60% subsidy, is an issue for small farmers. “Some farmers do have problems in purchasing, but a lot of them have started custom-renting of the drills by the hour,” says Katyal.
The process is not time-consuming, which is why farmers can sow on time, after the rice harvest. “Around six-seven days are saved. This might sound small but in wheat sowing, it is crucial. Even a slight delay can reduce productivity of the harvest drastically,” adds Malik.