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Ageing wheat seeds




  • Every year, the federal government fixes a target for wheat production, identifies acreage for cultivation and then sets about creating favourable conditions for attaining the target.
    Whether they succeed or fail is often beyond the managers and they are not always to be bamed if the crop is short, particularly if shortage of water and inclement weather undermines a crop.
    Factors like ensuring availability of fertilizers are within the government’s administrative reach. IRSA is responsible for equitably distributing water among provinces and trying to ensure that their irrigation requirements are met. But it can only deliver available resources.
    Extension wings of provincial authorities undertake the task of guiding farmers about the best ways for producing a good crop; they instruct farmers about removing unwanted growths from fields, about the right time for applying fertilizers and generally help farmers to extract the maximum from their fields.
    This year, the federal government assumed responsibility for providing professional guidance to farmers and spent approximately Rs70 million on a nation-wide publicity campaign for this purpose. It is another question if the campaign matched and augmented ground conditions.
    For instance, farmers were instructed on the timing for the application of fertilizers, not that the people whose livelihood has come from tilling fields for more than a few generations in many cases are not knowledgeable. Still, the efforts are to be appreciated because new farmers with state lands gifted to them at throwaway prices have invaded the farming landscape.
    They are rewarded for services rendered; only the beneficiaries and the state know the nature and importance of these services. Suffice it to say that the number of such ‘farmers’ is on the increase, much to the detriment of the sector because, not satisfied with land only, they also want state support and sponsorship for facilities like water on priority, supply of urea on official price, loans, etc.
    Their case is different. For average farmers, not all inputs are efficiently managed. Fertilizer tends to become expensive right when farmers need it most; it is also in short supply at such junctures.
    The current year has seen the phenomenon in play despite high cost subsidized import of urea. There are two possibilities of how this happened: mismanagement, corruption.
    One of the responsibilities of the state, at least an area it is required to oversee, is supply of quality seed for all crops; wheat is no different. Certified seed is starting point for all crops.
    The current wheat crop is widely, about 70 percent, grown from Inqilab 91 (I-91). This has been so for some years and the present crop is merely following the set course.
    It is rated as the best seed and the farmer’s preference for it is understandable. The seed has given them excellent crops year after year. It produces, under right conditions, 40-50 maunds per acre and even more if other contributory factors are in place. Most growers view I-91 as a reliable friend, one that does not let them down.
    There are other seed varieties too but they are not to be compared with I-91. Reports are that Bhakkar 2,000 is favoured by many farmers because of an attributed capacity for high yield but it is still way behind I-91. Some farmers cultivate other seed varieties approved during the last half a decade or so but they do so due to non-availability of I-91 for one reason or another.
    There however are apprehensions about the capacity of I-91 to continue producing consistently rewarding results. Approved by Punjab Seed Council (PSC) in 1992-93, it has been in harness for over a decade.
    That is a long time for any seed variety; most seed reach the point of superannuating in such a period. That I-91 has served well for so long is a remarkable event. But the seed cannot be of everlasting value; it is destined to perish like the best of seed.
    The strength of seed starts declining after some time and experts fear this may be happening to I-91 too. PSC last week banned the sowing of ten seed varieties of wheat because they had lost their productive capacity and had also become susceptible to disease and pest. It was the first decision of this kind and a welcome one for wheat crop.
    That I-91 still retains its strength in every respect has been a major source of the wheat sector’s productivity; the crop’s failure to reach the potential of the land is due to factors other than seed and to some extent to due to relatively low yield seed. The question is: how long would I-91 sustain?
    Practically every agricultural research organization of the provinces and those of the federal government are engaged in research on wheat and are conducting experiments in this regard.
    But they have not been able to produce a single variety comparable with I-91. The products of their research are for the record, not for the farmers to prosper and fields to produce more.
    That is a most regrettable situation because the size of the crop would suddenly nosedive once I-91 loses any of its productive attributes. Experts say that fields where some inputs are short of the correct mix or times when weather conditions are not ideally conducive for the crop, wheat plants are giving in to rust. That may not be due to any weakness of the sown variety but the possibility is not to be dismissed off hand.
    PSC also approved the cultivation of two cotton and paddy varieties last week; both underwent extensive field trials before they were considered fit for cultivation. This is most certainly not the case of wheat, easily the most important crop from the viewpoint of feeding the populace.
    One comes across all varieties of rhetoric about enhancing productivity of the agriculture sector but strange as that may sound, there is never a reference to new varieties of wheat. Are the authorities unaware of the importance of research in the wheat sector or they are confident that I-91 would prove infallible?
    Needless to emphasize, this aspect of wheat must be attended to on priority basis, indeed on war footing. Funds should be provided if research organizations are short of resources.
    Some research set-ps that have produced quality seed for other crops should be assigned the task with a time frame to come up with results. Research is being conducted in this area but that is obviously not enough: its results should be on view as well. Provincial organizations must be directed to produce results at top speed.

    Courtesy: The DAWN

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