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Paddy Politics and recommendations for end to highest yielding variety (DEBATE)

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One of the oldest paddy varieties, PUSA-44, cultivated on at least 1/6 (16%) of the total area under the crop in Punjab will soon not be grown.

The Centre’s department of agriculture research has asked Punjab to stop cultivating the variety, grown for around 40 years, from the upcoming kharif season. The Centre has also directed state procurement agencies and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) not to procure the paddy variety after harvest. The greater quantity of biomass (stubble) that the variety produces is said to have prompted the decision at a meeting that the central department held for in-situ (at its original place, without transport) management of paddy stubble.

Developed by Indian agriculture research institute (IARI) located in New Delhi, PUSA-44 is a 130-day crop, which is sown early, before the onset of monsoon leading to more consumption of ground water. It also matures late, leaving a short window for wheat sowing in the rabi season. Since the variety was sown in first season, Ludhiana based Punjab agricultural university is opposed to it.

In Punjab, 77 lakh acre is under paddy and in the 2019 season, the PUSA-44 variety was sown over 13 lakh acre. “The variety, on an average, is seven inches taller than other indigenous varieties of our university and produces 15-20% more biomass (stubble), leading to severe environment degradation, when burnt after harvest,” said Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) vice-chancellor BS Dhillon.

Dhillon added he was all for discontinuing PUSA-44, as there were better varieties such as PR-126 and PR-121 (of PAU) which mature in the much shorter time of 100-110 days.

“Farmers have a different perspective. We, as researchers, have to consider all aspects. PUSA-44 is water guzzler. What would farmers grow when there is no water left under our farms,” said Dhillon, adding that stopping stubble burning remained a challenge. Punjab agriculture secretary Kahan Singh Pannu said the government would examine the issue.

Despite opposition by high and mighty, farmers are standing by the variety. They say this variety gives a yield of 2-3 quintal per acre more than other varieties. “Farmers in a distress scenario would never like to lose yield, even if it is 2-3 quintal more,” said Balbir Singh a farmer from Samrala. “It gives a good yield, rice millers like it because of good output, low brokerage, low discolouration. All other varieties of PAU do not match it,” Rajewal said, claiming that the PAU had never recommended the oldest variety grown in the state. He also claimed that the variety was grown over large areas under different names and procured as well under varying names.

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