Air pollution is one of the biggest concerns in India. The northern part, especially Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, can be engulfed in toxic smog in winter. At the same time, several factors are contributing to the problem and all the attention is on cultivation and slash-and-burn in states neighboring Delhi. Farmers cannot cut or pull straws after paddy harvest because there is little time left to sow wheat. This problem can be solved if farmers have enough time to remove the straws without burning them. A logical solution can increase the gap between paddy harvest and wheat planting. And this can be achieved by using rice seed varieties harvested earlier.
Agriculture in the states of Punjab and Haryana faces two major problems: water scarcity and power outages. Punjab’s groundwater table is falling at an alarming rate. The decline was one meter every year in 18 out of 22 districts between 1998 and 2018, a study by the Punjab Agricultural University found. Farmers have switched to tube wells from canals in recent decades to access water around the clock. However, this has resulted in the depletion of the water table. This also had an impact on energy consumption. The state, especially rural areas, is experiencing unplanned power outages due to coal shortages. Under such conditions, growing long and water-consuming crops can lead to unforeseen expenses, leading to long-term losses.
Hybrid rice appears to be a feasible solution that can be implemented easily and smoothly. Hybrid rice is produced by crossing two genetically distinct varieties. Hybrid rice varieties mature early, with a cultivation time of around 110 days. On the other hand, open pollinated (OPV) inbred varieties take up to 160 days. This certainly widens the gap between harvesting Kharif and sowing rabi, preventing farmers from taking the hasty decision to burn crops. Presently, farmers in Punjab rely on Pusa-44 rice variety due to its high yield capacity. But it is one of the oldest cultivation varieties, with a cultivation period of 155-160 days. Other important varieties, like basmati too, need 140-145 days.
Hybrid rice is known to produce more grains with less water compared to inbred varieties. It takes about 1,750 liters of water to produce one kg of hybrid rice. But the need increases to 3,500 liters to produce one kg of inbred rice. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has developed hybrid rice varieties that are early maturing and less water-intensive.
Experiments have shown that hybrid rice varieties lead to high vigor and more stable seed yield. The higher the vigor, the better the ability of plants to withstand the negative impact of variable environmental production. Hybrid rice varieties offer major benefits to farmers in Punjab and those in other parts of the country. In addition to the early maturing characteristics, hybrid rice facilitates good grain quality, ensures greater resistance of agricultural production to diseases, pests and insects, and enhances the climate resilience of the crop. Despite so many advantages, adoption of hybrid rice has been below average.
Shorter duration, lower water requirement and therefore less electricity consumption, and climate resilience are great advantages that hybrid rice has over current inbred rice varieties. Farmers in northern states need to adopt hybrid rice varieties for increased productivity, reduced farm expenses and better environmental impact. Most importantly, hybrid rice will help prevent straw burning from limiting environmental and health issues in and around the rice-growing region. There must be coordinated efforts by government, farmer organizations and industry to adopt hybrid rice for the welfare of farmers and to ensure our health.