Punjab | Farm fires likely to rebound as rain delays paddy harvesting
With the region witnessing overcast skies and a temperature dip in the midst of the paddy harvest season, worries of the Punjab agriculture department pertaining to farm fires have increased manifold. Experts say farmers are more likely to burn stubble to make up for the lost time and quickly prepare their fields for the next crop
With the region witnessing overcast skies and a temperature dip in the midst of the paddy harvest season, worries of the Punjab agriculture department pertaining to farm fires have increased manifold.
Inclement weather conditions would delay the maturing of the paddy crop, thus a delay in harvest.
“A shorter window between paddy harvest and wheat sowing would mean that farmers would opt for the easiest method of clearing their fields, i.e stubble burning,” said an official of the state agriculture department who is monitoring the weather conditions and paddy harvest.
As per the state meteorology department, overcast sky and drizzling would continue for a few more days in the state.
Angej Singh, a farmer of Patiala said, “It is the second spell of rain in the last two weeks. Our harvest has been delayed by at least 10 days. Now, I have no option but to burn the paddy straw.”
Another farmer, Resham Singh of Nabha, said, “Rain has already done the damage. The moisture content in our crop has increased, which means we will have difficulty in selling the harvest. I won’t be able to bear additional expenses of hiring a happy-seeder or any other machine, for which we also need to purchase diesel to run it.”
Agriculture department officials, say that in some pockets, the crop is mature but moisture content is as high as 22 to 25%, so farmers have to wait before cutting the crop as otherwise, they won’t be able to fetch the best price for their crop.
“As per the crop cycle, paddy harvest should be over by October 25 and wheat cultivation is to begin simultaneously and continue till the first week of December, but this time, the entire schedule has been delayed,” said agriculture director Gurvinder Singh.
Can expect 3,000-4,000 farm fires a day by Oct-end
Though the farm fire count (till October 10) this year is comparatively lower than that last two years (see box), experts say it may go up to around 3,000-4,000 by late October and early November, which is considered to be the peak time for stubble trouble.
Paddy residue burning initially starts from the Majha region, where harvest takes place early.
“The maximum farm fires are usually reported from Sangrur, Barnala, Mansa, Patiala and Ludhiana, the epicenter of the farmers’ movement. Thus, no official dares to act against stubble burning, fearing a backlash from farmer unions,” revealed an agriculture department official.
The state government, on its part, is going all out to stem the menace. “We are encouraging farmers to make the optimum use of machines for in-situ management of paddy stubble,” said agriculture minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, who was seen riding a tractor to collect paddy straw, on Sunday, in a bid to exhort farmers.
“We have developed a mobile application on which information related to availability of each machine for management of paddy stubble is displayed so that farmers can take their pick. They can also easily hire the machines through this app,” said agriculture minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal.
Apart from this, around 50,000 volunteers and staff of revenue, agriculture and rural development departments have also been deployed to carry out outreach activities and convince farmers against burning paddy residue.
According to an officer in the state department, extension employees have been deputed to speed up harvest where ever the crop is fully mature. “We are motivating farmers to make the best use of machinery given to them for in-situ management of the paddy straw,” the official informed, adding that this season 32,100 machines for stubble management would be given to the farmers out of which at least 10,000 machines have been dispatched to the end-user.
As many as 76,000 machines have already been given to the farmers in the past four years (from 2018 to 2021). Despite this, there is no thaw in the number of farm fires -- last kharif season 71,246 cases of stubble burning were recorded in the state.
Punjab Pollution Control Board secretary Krunesh Garg, however, is hopeful that stubble trouble would see a dip this year. “As per data, the area under fire has been decreasing by 15% a year for last three years. This time, the government is pro-active and chief secretary is personally monitoring the situation to utilise the in-situ machinery for handling straw. We are hopeful that the farm fires will decrease this year,” he claimed. He said that this year due to increase of coal prices, many companies are collecting the stubble for fuel purpose, and besides that farmers are also cooperating.