Higher adoption of new climate-resilient varieties compared to any other crop will likely help farmers to reduce any adverse impact of El Nino-induced climate change in current rabi season with over half of wheat sowing being completed in Punjab and Haryana, two key growing States. In an interview with businessline, Gyanendra Singh, director of Haryana’s Karnal-based Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR) under Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), discussed about the challenges and solution.

As sowing of wheat has started, how is your preparation this season? How did you meet the demand of the farmers this time as most of them already collected their required seeds, both in varieties and quantity?

The Government of India has kept for the wheat production in the crop year 2023-24 (July-June) at 114 million tonnes (mt), which is about 4 mt higher than last year’s production of over 110 mt. Secondly, as per the IMD forecast, the winter is going to be shorter than last year and also that they are expecting there may be some weather fluctuations during the middle of the crop season. In this background, three things are very important — one is the variety and the other is its adoption by farmers, while the third is timely advisories to farmers.

Can you explain a bit details on these three aspects?

We now see that almost 70 per cent of the wheat area in the country is under climate resilient varieties. When we talk about climate resilience, it means these seed varieties have the capacity to take on the weather fluctuations and do not make any impact on the productivity or production of the crop. Almost 30 per cent of the acreage has been covered by wheat varieties developed by IIWBR.

The varieties, developed by IIWBR, are in huge demand from all sides be it farmer, government agency or private seed growers. This year, we got 28,000 bookings only from farmers and that too within 40 hours and we have distributed the seeds to all the farmers who had booked on the seed portal. Secondly, at 35-40 per cent annual rate, seed replacement is very good in wheat crop, maybe the best among all the agriculture crops. The third most important aspect is that we keep on issuing timely advisories to the farmers, government machineries, extension agencies and KVKs while looking into the weather scenario and crop conditions. We also use social media platforms.

How is the progress of wheat sowing in Punjab and Haryana?

According to the information we are receiving from different sources, close to 50 per cent sowing in Haryana and parts of Punjab have already been completed, so far. There are certain areas in both the states where because of late harvesting of paddy crop, there may be slight delay, maybe about 5-7 days in wheat sowing and those areas may be within 20 per cent of total wheat acreage in these states. While sowing in western Uttar Pradesh has begun, it already started in Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh. Before Diwali, close to 50 per cent of the sowing in country should be completed.

My estimation is that 70-75 per cent of the wheat sowing in country should be completed well in time this year and these are those irrigated areas where the productivity in terms of per unit production is the highest.

How about threat of pests and diseases?

Because of the new varieties developed by IIWBR and its contributing centres, the challenge of disease has almost been managed for last several years. Even, Yellow Rust in the north-west plain zone and north hill zone, and Karnal Bunt, two commonly found diseases in wheat, have been tackled with a very good level of resistance by the varieties developed by us in last 5-7 years. I am hopeful of a wonderful and productive season.

The government procurement in last two years failed to achieve the target. Still, the government’s production estimates do not reflect what traders claim about the country’s wheat production. Market prices also indicate a tight supply situation. Without going into the debate about actual production, when you said that there are already climate resilient seeds varieties adopted by farmers, why the wheat crop got affected in last two years because of temperature variation and hailstorms?

You raise a very pertinent question. But let me also say that in 2021-22, there was a problem of heat stress in the middle of March. And there were guestimates, and estimates from different agencies that production was going to be down by 15-20 per cent. But, because of the climate resilient varieties that the country has developed, the loss in that year was not more than 3.5-4 per cent.

Last year also, you have seen the weather during the third and fourth week of March was not favourable for the wheat crop. There were heavy rains, thunderstorms and a result lodging in the farmers’ field. Despite that, we have achieved 110 mt. This simply indicates that the varieties that are in the farmers’ field hold good from climate resilience point of view.

The productivity level in Haryana and Punjab has been maintaining a good level – 6-7 tonnes per hectare was reported by several farmers, even by private seed industry. The national average for last few years is about 3.5 tonnes/hectare, which is very good and there are four States, which have higher than national average. Madhya Pradesh is also growing well and all these five states will make a buffer zone for the country’s wheat production.

Published on November 11, 2023


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