Birsa Agriculture University
Ranchi, Sept. 3: If farmers are wondering how to grow paddy in a whimsical rainy season, Birsa Agriculture University (BAU) has an answer — treat it as wheat.
“Grow rice like wheat,” D.N. Singh, university professor, plant breeding and genetics, BAU, advised the state’s farmers who have been living with the prospect of an inadequate monsoon. The implication being that rice can be grown in similar conditions as wheat, which is not dependent on inundated fields.
“Rice is a profligate user of water. To produce one kilo of rice, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 litres of water are required. Statistics reveal that the total rainfall in the state has been well below the normal average,” Singh pointed out.
Normally, Jharkhand gets an average of 850mm, but till September 1, it received 720mm, a deficit of 15 per cent. The state will require another 350mm of rain to achieve the seasonal target. The average normal in four months (June to September) is 1,082.2mm.
But how can farmers utilise low rainfall for rice cultivation?
“Since paddy is mostly a rain-fed crop and assured irrigation in Jharkhand barely covers 10 per cent of the total cultivable area, the practice of aerobic cultivation of rice will ensure effective use of water,” he explained.
Under the normal sowing practice, paddy seedlings are first grown in a nursery that is not waterlogged. After a spell of two to three weeks, the growing paddy stalks are transplanted to waterlogged fields.
But with aerobic cultivation, paddy seedlings are directly planted in fields, which are not waterlogged. The growing paddy stalks make use of whatever rainfall is available.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Singh stressed that the state government needed to work towards standardising the practice of aerobic rice cultivation, with increased stress on drought-resistant and hybrid varieties, which could pose a solution to the receding rains and falling water tables without compromising on productivity.
The aerobic cultivation method could also help in saving at least 40-50 per cent water in comparison to the traditional pattern of growing rice. Every drop of water in the farmer’s field, by way of rainfall, surface irrigation or drawn from aquifers, is used effectively. Aerobic rice allows optimum use of rain and the farmer can skip irrigation if the level of moisture on the soil is sufficient for the crop. The fields need not be inundated, as in case of traditional paddy sowing.
“There is no adverse effect on productivity under aerobic paddy cultivation. Test results have shown that,” the BAU professor stressed.
Even with less water usage, aerobic rice yields are on a par with irrigated rice. Aerobic rice emits 80-85 per cent less methane gas into the atmosphere, thus keeping the environment safe. Savings are also resulted with no transplanting costs and seed costs involved.
Another beneficial feature of adopting the practice is it could effectively reduce labour costs. Since the aerobic method completely does away with the initial sowing of seeds in a nursery, the labour costs, which involve readying land, get reduced substantially.