Nestled in the rice belt of Tamilnadu, Elaymuthur has become a hot bed for experimental agriculture. Two kilometres from the small and robust town of Udamalpet, Elaymuthur is in the spotlight on account of an innovative but expensive method using drip irrigation for a water intensive crop like paddy. But is this a feasible option for the farmers of India?
Jain Irrigation Systems has embarked upon this project, in collaboration with the Tamilnadu Agricultural University, which harvested the first successful paddy crop this year. The experiment targeted the popular type of rice, ADT 45, grown by the TN farmers. Sown in the month of March, the successful harvesting of the crop has given a glimmer of hope for scientists experimenting with the method.
For the experiment carried out under the supervision of V Soman, senior scientist at Jain Irrigation System, two platforms (or mulching) were used for the production of paddy in Elyamuthur. While one is a more expensive technology using polyene sheets for mulching, the other, dry husk mulching provides a much easier access to farmers to utilise drip irrigation.
Talking about the success of this experiment, Soman said that the yield was better than expected under the experimental drip irrigation system in the field. “We have got almost 3.1 tonnes of yield as compared to the usual 3.4 tonnes of rice that is produced through the conventional method of flood irrigation in paddy fields.”
Polyene sheet mulching
On the other side, farmers may still question the initial investment for the drip irrigation system which is being proposed by Soman and his team for utilising it in their paddy fields. At present, the drip irrigation system has been given at subsidised rates to farmers across the country for various crops including those for wheat and maize. But with paddy being an experimental crop for the drip irrigation method, it is unclear whether the states will provide any kind of relief on the equipment. Currently, minus the subsidy, drip irrigation equipment will cost nearly Rs 57,000 for a farmer. This apart, polyene sheets also require heavy investment. Soman said that if and when the methodology is made available to the farmers, they will certainly not recommend the polyene sheet mulching method for the paddy fields.
So where lies the advantage? While the yield may not be encouraging at the first look of the experiment, on a positive note the consumption of water has fallen by nearly 50 per cent. While a flood irrigated paddy field uses 65 lakh litres/acre of water every season under drip irrigation, consumption of water has fallen by nearly 50 per cent to 36.4 lakh litres/acre. A phenomenal saving for a nation that has been struggling to provide water to its 1.6 billion citizens.
Furthermore, while power is provided free of cost to farmers across most states, the drip irrigation system cuts down power consumption units by nearly 45 per cent. Under the conventional method, power utilised in paddy fields runs upto 467 units. But in the case of drip irrigation system with polyene or dry husk mulching, only 226 units of power are used.
On the labour front, while a conventional style will cost Rs 1,600 for labour in the harvest season, drip irrigation method will ensure that the bill footed for manpower comes down to Rs 750. “However, this might be negligible in terms of the labour as only one extra hand is required in the conventional style of irrigation,” added Soman.
Fielding questions on whether the common farmer will go for the drip irrigation system that has a heavy capital investment, the senior scientist was hopeful that farmers in the country will go for the technology rather than base their decision on the cost factor.
“We are nonetheless in the experimental phase. The technology will be tried and tested for the next two years before taking it to the farmers as a viable agricultural technology,” he said.