Punjab to fall short of meeting demand of baler machines
Balers are in high demand this season in view of its profitability and over 6,800 farmers, custom hiring centres (CHCs) and village panchayats applying for the machines on subsidy.
Though Punjab government is making all-out efforts to bring down stubble burning this season, it may fall short on supplying baler machines – an agriculture equipment used to bale paddy straw—which is a crucial part of the state ex-situ management plans.
Balers are in high demand this season in view of its profitability and over 6,800 farmers, custom hiring centres (CHCs) and village panchayats applying for the machines on subsidy. The government itself had aimed to make available 1,300 balers but it may fall short of this target too.
“We will not be able to supply all 1,300 balers. I think 1,000 to 1,100 is the possibility,” said state agriculture department joint secretary Jagdish Singh.
The reason why balers are in short supply is that there are only two export-oriented manufacturing units in the country, one each in Pune and Rajkot, and these units are unable to meet the requirement of Punjab.
Speaking on the economics of it, the state agriculture department joint secretary said, “Paddy sells for about ₹250-300 a quintal during harvest in October-November months, and goes up to ₹500-600 a quintal in off-season. Every acre under paddy generates about 25 quintals of straw which fetches about ₹6,000 to 15,000, depending on the need and supply. This essentially means that farmers can make almost as much from selling the residue as they can from selling paddy.”
Punjab already has around 1,000 entrepreneurs in the state working to collect, supply and sell paddy stubble and about 1,000 are expected to join in this season.
“We want to expand our business, but balers are in short supply,” said Yadwinder Singh of Muktsar who collects paddy straw from Punjab and sells it as dry fodder in Gujarat and Rajasthan. He already owns two balers and has applied for four more. “Let’s see how much we get this time,” he said.
There are other challenges such as space for storage and there is no streamlined system to sell it, he added.
Paddy straw is also used as biomass fuel in furnaces, boilers and thermal plants, besides in ethanol production. The state agriculture department is giving 11 different machines on subsidy including smart seeder, baler, crop reaper, reverse plough, mulcher, chopper, shrub master, straw rake, super SMS, surface seeder and zero till drill to manage paddy stubble so that farmers desist from burning it. The machines are for in-situ (mixing straw in the soil) and ex-situ (evacuating from the fields).
Indigenously manufactured baler costs Rs. 15-18 lakh and individual farmers are offered 50% subsidy while CHCs get 80% subsidy on all the machines.
A total of 200 lakh tonnes of paddy stubble is produced along with 200 lakh tonnes of paddy. About 60% straw is utilised or mixed in the soil and rest (80 lakh tonnes) is set ablaze, which leads to severe environment and health hazard. The smoke rising from the paddy fields forms a smog jacket over the skies of north Indian states – particularly national capital – New Delhi.
According to Pritpal Sharma of Bhikhi, Mansa, who is in the business of paddy straw aggregation since 2004, said that machinery shortage is hampering the business. According to him, he plans to collect 12 lakh tonnes of straw from across the state as he works with young entrepreneurs who collect straw for his company, and he pays them the cost.