Why Punjab farmers are reluctant to bank on two key stubble management machines

Two aggressively promoted crop residue management machines by the government — Happy Seeder and Super-Straw Management System (S-SMS), have become the most neglected ones among farmers. While the government pushes them as the ones most useful for stubble management, farmers are not impressed.

Current situation

At present, Punjab has 13,540 Happy Seeders (HS) and 5,972 S-SMS attached Combine harvesters. According to the law, no combine harvesters can be run in the fields without S-SMS attachment.

Punjab has around 18,000 combine harvesters out of which nearly 50% are suitable for the attachment of S-SMS because some are quite old. The state could not even get at S-SMS attached to even these 50% harvesters in the past four years.

This year, the Punjab government invited applications from farmers to distribute over 30,000 Crop Residue Management (CRM) machines on subsidy, but the demand for both machines was negligible.

How do these machines work?

S-SMS attachment fitted into the combine ensures that any loose straw also gets cut and is spread evenly on the field at the time of harvesting paddy. This is accomplished in just a single operation. This is an effective solution to the problem of pollution resulting from paddy stubble burning during harvesting time. After this, wheat can be sown directly with Happy Seeder (HS) in slashed, evenly spread and short-height standing stubble cut by the S-SMS.

HS cuts and lifts the stubble from the Combine-harvested paddy, drills wheat seeds into the bare soil, and deposits the straw over the sown area as a mulch cover. Also, even if farmers do not use HS then this short-height stubble can’t be easily burnt.

When harvesting with combines without S-SMS, huge heaps of stubble piles up in the field after harvesting and farmers prefer to burn it.

Reason behind falling demand

Experts as well farmers said that not even 10 to 15 of the available HS are being used in the state as of now. Even those who own it are using Super Seeder (SS), which was introduced in 2019 for the first time and sows only wheat.

“This year we are going to provide around 30,000 CRM machines out of which there is a negligible demand for HS, while SS is the top demand of farmers. We were planning to provide nearly 10,000 SS machines because of their high demand but now this number may increase due to the large number of applications received for it,” said Joint Director (Engineering Wing) Punjab Agriculture Department cum the state Nodal officer of CRM, Jagdish Singh, adding that with HS stubble of paddy remains in the field for a long time even after growing of the wheat crop but with SS stubble is buried under the earth and fields looks clean.

Experts said that the usage of S-SMS fitted is also very limited now because several farmers prefer to burn their straw, and few others prefer a collection of straw through a bailer machine, which cuts stubble close to the roots. While remaining use other alternatives like paddy straw chopper, mulcher, Rotary slasher, cutter and spreader etc.

Relevance despite other options

Experts said that both the machines are very much relevant even today but farmers always follow the latest trend. Talking about the benefits of these two machines, experts said that sowing with HS has several benefits as fewer weeds grow in the fields and mulching leads to better yield except for a few exceptions. Also, 13,540 HS machines can cover around 11 lakh hectares of rice area out of 30 lakh hectares. “So, the effective solution to the problem of pollution resulting from paddy stubble burning would be to use an S-SMS combine harvester with available HPs and other machines to cover the entire rice area,” said the Joint Director.

Even in this season when wheat grain got shrivelled due to high temperature and the wheat yield came down to 13-14 quintals from an average of 20-21 quintals per acre, the farmers who had sown wheat with HS reported less loss of yield, said experts.

Also, the cost of HS is around 1.60 lakh and 50% and 80% subsidy is available for individual and group of farmers, respectively, and it can be run with a 45 and above horsepower (HP) tractor while SS cost is 2.60 lakh with the same subsidy and it needs a tractor above 55 HP. With HS farmers need to spend Rs 1500 per acre and with SS farmers are spending Rs 2,500 to 3,000 per acre. Also, HS covers around 8 acres area in a day and SS does 5 to 5.5 acres only.

Currently, the state has 26,305 SS machines, and even if their number goes even to 40,000 during this paddy harvesting season then these can 17.81 lakh hectares, which is just 60% rice area. So, HSs will have to be utilised with SS machines as the entire rice area is to be covered in a small window of paddy harvesting and wheat sowing.

S-SMS is relevant because it harvests, cuts and spreads straw simultaneously while traditional harvesters leave huge heaps of stubble in the fields after harvesting, managing which costs more than when S-SMS combine operation is done. But the number of available S-SMS combines is very low against the requirement and it can cover only 40% of the paddy area. Managing the remaining 60% with the alternative machines is not possible during a small window period, said experts.

Limitations of CRM machines

Only HS should not be used in waterlogged conditions in the field; and if there is excess soil moisture due to rains then it should be used after the fields comes to normal soil moisture.

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