PUSA-44 paddy variety to phase out in Punjab by 2025: Agriculture director

Acreage of environmentally hazardous PUSA-44 variety of paddy is tipped to go down in Punjab by 17% or two lakh acres this year, as the state authorities have planned to phase out this water-intensive non-basmati variety in the next three kharif seasons .

Officials of the state agriculture department and farm scientists credit the decline in area under the unrecommended variety to the years of sustained efforts and viable alternatives to this kharif variety.

Agriculture director Gurvinder Singh said seed production of this longest-duration rice variety would be discouraged from 2023 and the seeds stocked by farmers are likely to be exhausted in the next couple of seasons.

Trend of paddy nursery sowing shows a decline in preference of PUSA-44 and its area would be dropped by at least two lakh acres this year, said the director.

According to the official data, of a total paddy area of ​​77 lakh acres under paddy in 2021 in Punjab, the premium basmati was cultivated over 12.5 lakh acres and the PUSA-44 over 12 lakh acres.

Besides, the PR-121 is sown over 17 lakh acres and PR-126 over 12-13 lakh acre land.

Five to six other varieties of paddy are also owned in the state.

The PUSA-44 is largely grown in Malwa, including the districts of Sangrur, Moga, Mansa and Barnala. Paddy transplantation began in Malwa on June 17.

“PUSA-44 takes 145-150 days to mature which is up to 30 days more than other recommended parmal rice (PR) varieties. This variety gains notoriety for requiring 5-6 extra cycles of irrigation than other types of paddy,” the agriculture director said.

Post-harvest organic waste generation is also higher in this variety that further contributes to pollution when stubble is burnt, said the director.

The PUSA-44, developed by the Delhi-based Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), commonly referred to as PUSA Institute, is one of the oldest varieties grown in Punjab.

Paddy grower Baldev Singh said per acre yield from PUSA-44 is up to 6 quintals more than other varieties and this made it popular among the farming community.

Principal rice breeder of Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) GS Mangat said higher profiteering from PUSA-44 is a misnomer as farmers do not calculate higher cost input, stress on groundwater, higher chemical load and more use of electricity to run tube wells for this long -duration variety.

“This time, farmers switched over to summer moong and relied on other short-duration PR varieties while understanding the adverse impact of this once popular variety. Farmers have started responding to the call against PUSA-44 and we hope that by 2024, area under it would be reduced drastically when seed availability would be dropped,” said Mangat.

Mansa chief agriculture officer Manjit Singh said of the estimated over 2 lakh acres to be covered under rice production in the district, nearly 10% would remain PUSA-44 this time.

“Nursery sowing trend is very encouraging. In 2021, nearly 60,000 acres was under PUSA-44 in Mansa district, whereas this time it would remain under 20,000 acres,” said the official.

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