Come September, paddy straw management had been the overwhelming question for farmers in Punjab and Haryana, especially since the mechanisation of agriculture. When paddy is manually harvested, the whole plant is removed from the soil, thereby cutting off the stubble problem at the root (pun definitely intended). But with the use of machines, only the rice grains are harvested, leaving the farmer with a field full of paddy straw that he needs to clear in time to sow the winter crop.
Unfortunately, setting things on fire isn’t the best way to solve problems. Stubble burning not only causes large-scale, widespread pollution and health problems because of the said pollution, it also destroys useful soil microbes, as well as trees and plants around the fields.
Besides, paddy straw can be useful. Wheat straw is valued as cattle fodder, since it’s more nutritious than paddy straw, but farmers in both Haryana and Orissa are turning to paddy straw to make compost in order to grow mushrooms for the market.
“Paddy straw from a 0.4 ha paddy farm costs only about Rs 1,000. It is nine times cheaper than wheat straw… A small farm of 0.12 ha needs five tonnes of paddy to grow mushrooms,”
~Naresh Kumar, Puthar farmer, to Down To Earth
According to Rajendra Singh, agricultural officer of Israne block in Panipat district, Haryana, the annual turnover from mushroom cultivation in Puthar village is over Rs 2 crore.
Several farmers also use the paddy straw to make compost and organic manure- always an option. Unfortunately, composting takes time, something that modern agriculture doesn’t always have patience for.
In order to solve the problem of the paddy straw, the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), developed a tractor-operated machine known as the ‘happy seeder’. After harvesting the paddy field with a combined harvester fitted with Super-SMS (Straw Management System) equipment that chops and evenly spreads the stubble in the field, farmers can directly sow wheat seeds using the happy seeder, with the stubble’s organic value adding to the soil, the PAU was quoted as saying in the Indian Express.
The cost of the machine is around Rs 1.5 lakh, with a 50% subsidy upon purchase by an individual and an 80% subsidy when it is purchased by a collective- farmers’ groups and Primary Agricultural Co-operatives (PACs).
Akanksha Kumar, writing for The Quint, says that there have been a number of issues with the adoption of the happy seeder by farmers. Supply is one of them, as technical issues often delay the delivery of machines to the farmers. Also, even with the subsidies, the costs remain prohibitive, as most farmers in Punjab have less than 1 hectare of land, and cannot arrange the money to buy an individual happy seeder (which will cost around Rs 75,000).
However, if purchased by a group or a PAC, the machine will cost Rs 30,000, after which it can be rented out during harvest/tilling season by each farmer. If, as the Quint article says, 90% of Punjab farmers have less than 1 hectare of land, and the happy seeder can’t till land beyond 10 acres if used for 8-10 hours a day, that would mean the machine could till up to 4 farms in a day, possibly 5.
But even if the happy seeder is unaffordable, it is possible to turn to manual harvesting- which doesn’t leave straw/stubble in the field- while also cultivating late-season varieties of wheat. Bonus: manually-harvested rice fetches a higher price in the market as opposed to the machine-harvested variety. Several Puthar farmers are doing exactly this, and encouraging others to do the same.
So, to recap, rather than do a Daenerys, here’s what can be done with paddy straw:
- Mushroom farming
- Composting for manure
- Chopping using happy seeder
- Manual harvesting
There’s also the option- pushed by the MNRE- to sell the straw to biomass plants in the state. But that’s a story for another time.