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A New Revolution for Farming in India: Punjab Government Pushes for Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) Method During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Jul 25, 2020 2:38 PM 4 min read

In the 1960s, Punjab was at the forefront of the Green Revolution that led to a spike in crop yields. Over half a century later, this northern state of India is beckoning yet another revolution for farming in India


Necessity is the Mother of Agricultural Revolution

Labour shortage following an exodus of migrant labourers, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has forced many farmers in India, particularly in Punjab, to abandon the traditional ‘transplanting’ method and instead, opt for direct seeding of rice. 

We discuss how the adoption of the direct seeding technique can help farmers in India greatly cut costs, reduce water consumption, get better yields and even better manage crop residue after harvest - thereby signalling a new wave of agricultural revolution in India



Transplanting Rice (TPR) Method vs Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) Method

In the traditional transplanting method, farmers prepare nurseries where the paddy seeds are first sown and raised into young plants. These seedlings are then uprooted and replanted about 25-35 days later in the main field that are “puddled” or tilled in standing water using tractor-drawn disc harrows.

The DSR method, on the other hand, bypasses the nursery stage. The seeds are instead directly drilled into the field by a tractor-powered machine.


A Renewed Push for DSR by the Punjab Government

This year, to cope with the shortfall of agricultural labourers, the Punjab Government has decided to deploy the DSR technique instead of the traditional TPR technique. 

And to this effect, Punjab’s Agriculture Department had sanctioned 4,000 DSR machines and 800 paddy transplanter machines to farmers at a subsidy ranging from 40 to 50%. 


Benefits of DSR 

Reduced Labour Costs

Farm wages have gone up from 1,500 rupees an acre to about ₹4,500 this year, and growers need around half a dozen workers to transplant rice paddy on a one acre plot.

In comparison, farmers can hire planting machines for ₹5,000 to ₹6,000 per acre that can cover 25 to 30 acres in a day.


Water Conservation

Water conservation is another key advantage of DSR, which is crucial in a monsoon-dependent country like India. 

Since groundwater is the main source of irrigation in states such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, rice cultivation by TPR has also severely depleted the water table.

Under the conventional method, 3,000l-5,000l of water is used in India to produce 1kg of rice - the most water-thirsty crop. The DSR technique allows rice cultivators to cut the requirement of water by at least 50% to 60%. 



The DSR machines allow farmers to grow more than 30 saplings per square metre against the usual 15 to 18 seedlings, said Naresh Gulati, a farm official in Punjab. And as per officials, the DSR method could increase yields by about one-third. 


Harvesting and Stubble-Burning

After harvesting the crop with a combine harvester, farmers usually dispose of the stubble by burning it. 

The short 20-25 days window between paddy harvesting and sowing the next wheat crop is the one where famers resort to stubble burning.

Bypassing the nursery stage hastens up the entire process. This year, with the Punjab Government lifting the ban on cut-off date for sowing, and with several farmers opting for direct seeding of rice - they have relatively more time to prepare fields for the winter crop.


Given the Benefits, Why Isn’t DSR Popular?

Traditionally, farmers across the world used to follow the practice of broadcasting seeds directly on dry or puddled soils. However, the shift to TPR happened only in the past century or so, primarily due to two reasons - seed rate and weeds.

Even in India, the practice of transplanting started only after the Green Revolution. 

“The seed rate was high, with farmers using 100 kg seed per ha under DSR while transplanting rice needed just 15 to 10 kg per ha. Another major factor was the emergence of weeds and the lack of effective weedicides,” explained M L Jat, principal scientist with Mexico-based CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) in this report by DownToEarth. In transplanting, since the field is waterlogged, weed growth is minimal. 

However, even after factoring in the extra costs of spraying herbicides and other applications, the overall cost of cultivation is substantially lower under DSR, said Ravindra Kajal, a farmer in Haryana.

Another drawback will be that if the method is adopted across the farm belt, there will be huge unemployment in the eastern states next year.

But all theories aside, farmers will only decide whether to stick with the technology or not, once they reap the benefits. Until then, we wait and watch. 


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