Sour Grapes turn Sweet

    26-Jan-2021
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 Nashik farmers show how small but solid innovative farming techniques help improve yields and their incomes
 
-G Sreedathan
 
 
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Harishchandra Gawane uses mulching paper technique to grow vegetables in the rabi season 
 
 
Introduction of a few innovative techniques in farming has changed the life of Bhaskar Porje, a resident of Khambale village in Nashik district, Maharashtra for the better. He never thought he would come out of the dungeon of debts in his lifetime. It continues to remain a mystery to him as to how seemingly ‘small and cost-effective’ changes in farming practices could make ‘big’ changes in his income.
 
According to Porje, a small-time farmer, the soil health check he carried out in his fields three years ago has led to a qualitative change in the yields. In the kharif season, water-guzzling paddy is the main crop here as water is available in plenty—this region gets up to 2,000 cm of rain annually. But, after the paddy harvest, only resourceful farmers who have wells or farm ponds could grow vegetables in the rabi season. Others, however, are left with no option but to work as farm labourers. For the three or more years, Porje has been using mulching paper technique to grow tomatoes in his two-acre plot. He changed the crop pattern on the advice of agriculture officials and it worked wonders for him.
 
“I used to dump fertilisers in my fields hoping for better yields. But I could see that despite putting large quantities of fertilisers there was no improvement in terms of yields. Then our agricultural officials advised me to carry out soil test,” says Porje. Armed with a soil health card (SHC), Porje is now aware of what his soil needs. The agriculture officials explained to him how micronutrients in adequate quantity in soil help improve harvest. He now knows how to maintain organic carbon and pH levels in the soil. Porje, like his fellow-farmers, now keeps a meticulous record of soil content and applies fertilisers accordingly. “You have to give what the soil needs and not what you have. If you give that, then Prithvi Maa will give back in plenty,” he adds.
 
According to Porje, it never occurred to him that he should carry out soil test. Encouraged by district agriculture officials, he, along with 1,000 other farmers, conducted the soil test. For all these years, he had been following the traditional farming practices. “After the test, I came to know that the organic carbon content in the soil was very low. It also showed me the NPK and micronutrient content in the soil. I was advised by the agriculture officials to use cow dung and other organic manure. This had a telling effect on the quality of the soil and its water retention capacity. The organic carbon level has also gone up,” he says. This had another impact as well—even after applying less quantity of chemical fertilisers, he got four quintals more rice. “Now my expenses on fertilisers have come down drastically and I use only that much which is required,”said Porje.
 
Nashik, called California of India, is known for three things—KumbhMela, wineries and onions. Located 190 km north of Mumbai, Nashik has earned the distinction of being the ‘Wine Capital of India’, thanks to its climate which is favourablefor growing grapes
 
The increase in income from paddy cultivation has doubled Porje’s confidence. He invested the extra income in vegetable cultivation. Using mulching paper technique, he grows tomatoes and other vegetables. The amount of water used in farming has also gone down as soil retention has increased due to mulching. Earlier, he used to only have paddy cultivation, but now he has tomatoes, too.
 
The story of Harishchandra Gawane, a resident of Kanchan Gaon in the same district, is no different. He used to cultivate paddy but this season, he has also grown cucumbers using the mulching paper technique. He hopes to get good returns on them. “On the advice of agriculture officials, I conducted soil test. I started giving measured quantities of chemical fertilisers. Despite the cut down on chemical fertilisers, the yield was really good. The rice plants were looking robust and grains were big in size. Even the incidence of pest attack had reduced,” he says.
 

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Regular soil health check and innovative manuring regimen
helped Balasaheb Pingle, a resident of Dindori taluk, earn more from farming
 
In the kharif season, water-guzzling paddy is the main crop in Nashik as water is available in plenty—this region gets up to 2,000 cmof rain annually. But, after the paddy harvest, only resourceful farmers who have wells or farm ponds could undertake vegetable farming in the rabi season. Others, however, are left with no option but to work as farm labourers. Now they use mulching paper technique to grow vegetables 
Nashik, called California of India, is known for three things—Kumbh Mela, wineries and onions. Located 190 km north of Mumbai, Nashik has earned the distinction of being the ‘Wine Capital of India’, thanks to its climate which is favourable for growing grapes.
 
A majority of farmers in Niphad and Dindori taluks in the district grow grapes while paddy is the main crop in Igatpuri, Trimbakeshwar, Peth and Surgana talukas. In eastern parts of the district, farmers mainly cultivate onion, pomegranate and vegetables. Compared to other farmers, grape growers are considered to be the most updated and well-informed ones. They export tonnes of grapes and wines to the US and Europe.
 
Balasaheb Pingle, a resident of Dindori taluk, says grape cultivation requires great and meticulous care. “We carry out soil testing three times a year and we take the help of private soil testing facilities in these areas. We also take the advice of scientists at the National Research Centre for Grapes,” he says.
 
Pingle, a graduate, has been cultivating grapes for the last 18 years. He has adopted new and innovative farming technologies. According to him, soil test is very crucial for farming and it should be the first priority of a farmer. He vouches that soil testing has helped him increase his income. Initially, he used to cultivate grapes in two acres but now his family does so in 40 acres of land.
 
Besides grapes, he also grows vegetables and maize. He lives in a bungalow, owns a car and a tractor, and his children study in good schools. He doesn’t believe farming is a non-profitable proposition. “If one adopts right techniques and technology, one can make farming a profitable proposition.” he says.
 
(With inputs from Pankaj Joshi)