- CNH Industrial (India), launched its harvester machine in October
- Punjab produces 18.7 million tonnes of paddy straw annually
- This year, about 5.3 million tonnes of straw was processed and not burnt
New Delhi: Stubble burning in Punjab this year was less than last year, according to an official of the state agriculture department, declining by a third. “Enforcement was good,” Manmohan Kalia, Joint Director in Punjab’s agriculture department said about the ban on stubble burning. About 5.3 million tonnes of straw was processed and not burnt, he said, adding that this was about a million tonnes more than last year. Punjab produces 18.7 million tonnes of paddy straw annually.
What the official termed as good was not good enough, as the pollution load in Delhi reached alarming levels on some days in November, owing to a combination of vehicle emissions, industrial pollutants, construction dust and soot and smoke from Punjab’s burning fields.
To tackle the problem more effectively, an agriculture machinery company has launched a combine harvester that cuts paddy three inches from the ground, and once the grain is separated, spreads the straw across the field after chopping it. Conventional combines leave 12-16 inch tall stubble.
CNH Industrial (India), formerly known as New Holland Fiat (India), launched its harvester in October and the Punjab government has now endorsed the machine.
Once the harvester spreads the straw, a seeder makes slits in the ground through the straw cover, to sow wheat, adding fertilizer. The New Holland harvesters cost Rs. 23 lakh each, about Rs. 5 lakh more than those being used in the state, but may effectively control the stubble burning problem.
According to Gabriele Lucano, country head and Managing Director of the Italian multinational’s Indian firm, Italy too faced the problem of stubble burning about 30 years ago, but succeeded in eradicating it through adoption of mechanical means.
Punjab has 12,000 combine harvesters of which 7,600 are of low horsepower (100 hp or less). Fitting all of them would require Rs. 168 crore, though the cost would decline with volumes, according to Mr Kalia. Not all of the existing harvesters can be retro-fitted as quite a few of them are old and under-powered. The cost of seeders is about Rs. 1.3 lakh each.
Punjab’s agriculture department has estimated that Rs. 1,100 cr would be needed as investment to shift paddy farmers to no-burn practices, if equipment is hired out.
CNH does not make seeders but offers them through tie-ups with other equipment makers. At a press conference in Delhi on November 29, it made a strong pitch for the harvesting of paddy straw for production of power, gas, paper and particle board. This practice would require three machines- a slasher to close cut tall stubble, a rake to gather the straw and a baler to pack them into tight square or round bales.
Also Read: Punjab: Decline In Stubble Burning By 30%
Punjab would need about 10,000 sets of machines if straw were used as an industrial raw material.
Company officials said the use of straw for power production was viable if biomass using plants were located within a radius of 20 km. Mr Kalia said Rs 5,500 a tonne of straw which the National Thermal Power Corporation was offering was a losing proposition for farmers if it was the factory-gate price.
CNH offers a third option: that of shredding the straw and mixing it in the soil. Apart from the harvester, this would require four other pieces of equipment and five operations. Such a practice was appropriate for fields where potatoes were grown after paddy.
But it endorsed sowing wheat without ploughing as the most sustainable practice, since the straw cover would conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, prevent lodging of wheat plants, enrich the soil with organic matter, which in turn would help beneficial worms and bugs thrive, and of course, save labour and hiring costs.
Though the Borlaug Institute for South Asia has been demonstrating conservation agriculture at its 500-acre station in Ludhiana for the past five years, its scientists have been unable to be heard widely.
The Punjab government and CNH had adopted Kallar Majri village in Patiala district this winter to demonstrate all the three ways of managing paddy stubble and straw without burning. These may get traction as more machinery makers show interest.