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Timely planting for increased wheat productivity              Home
By M. Naeem Mushtaq & M. Saleem

WHEAT, a major staple food crop, is cultivated over an area of 8.3 million hectares while its share in agriculture is about 13.7 per cent. It accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the cropped area and 65 per cent of the food grain acreage. About 80 per cent and 20 per cent of the total wheat acreage is planted under irrigated and rain-fed conditions, respectively.

The current yield per acre is much lower than India and China. A wide gap exists between the national average yield (26 maunds/acre) and potential yield (70 maunds/acre). Pakistan can become self-reliant in wheat production by following a rightful production technology.

The low yield phenomenon is due to management and agronomic factors which farming communities ignore. Among several factors responsible for low yield, late planting is one. It has been evaluated that wheat sown after November 25, results in yield reduction by 15kg per acre per year.

According to a survey about 50 per cent farmers sow wheat crop after this date. Late plantation is the result of late crushing/harvesting of sugarcane and cotton crops due to the conflict of interests between the mills and farmers. Each side tries to reap bonanza but none is benefited. This leads to late wheat sowing thus effectuating a sharp decrease in production. According to a rough estimate, about 25-30 per cent of wheat yield is reduced due to late sowing.

Mostly wheat sowing is completed by December or January but the crop whether planted in November, December or January matures at the same time. Therefore, the crop planted in December/January can not complete its growth stages and bears less number of tillers and grains. Likewise, most of the wheat cultivation in Punjab and Sindh is done on area pre-occupied by cotton, rice and sugarcane crops. In cotton belt farmers continue picking still in December due to late maturity of cotton varieties. Breeders have done a great job regarding development of early maturing varieties of cotton but still there is a need to have varieties which will complete their growth and mature up to mid of November, so that wheat can easily be planted in those areas. Here, relay cropping of wheat could be a sound way to tackle this problem.

Wheat is sown on standing cotton crop using broadcast method. Cotton is allowed to grow and harvested after taking last picking by end of December or first week of January. This results in timely sowing of wheat and additional benefit from cotton yield is also possible. Likewise, fine rice is cultivated in most of the rice growing area. Under such conditions, selection of early maturing varieties of rice could be a best strategy to resolve this problem.

Timely planting (in the month of November) yields promising results in terms of enhanced productivity of wheat. Environmental conditions at this time favour proper seed germination and thus lead to healthy crop stand that reduces the chances of insect pests attack and weed problems. More number of tillers per unit area and increase in leaf area are instrumental in increasing the yield due to efficient utilization of solar radiation in photosynthesis. Moreover, plants receive required length of time for different growth stages, from germination to grain filling and consequently, the yield potential of crop plants is enhanced significantly.

In addition to this, shortage of canal water at the time of sowing is another obstacle. Most of the canals remain closed when water is badly needed by the farmers for sowing wheat. In “warabandi” system it is difficult for farmers to manage timely irrigation when their respective canal is closed for a weak or a couple of weeks.

Optimum availability of water to farming communities should be ensured at the sowing time of wheat crop. It can be done by shifting the closeness of canals to any other period of time when water requirement is not so critical for crop plants. In addition, more strategies could be effective for reaping optimum yield like:

•There should be an incentive in terms of subsidy in inputs like seed, fertilizer and herbicides for farmers who complete their wheat planting in November.

•There should be fixed timeframe of cane crushing through implementation of some regulations to bound sugar mills to start cane crushing for ensuring timely plantation of forthcoming wheat crop.

•A campaign should be launched by the Agriculture Extension Department to create awareness among the farmers regarding benefits of timely sowing of wheat.

•In future, early maturing varieties of rice and cotton should be introduced to resolve these issues on sustainable basis.

•Optimum availability of water and other inputs should be ensured during sowing of wheat to facilitate the farming for accomplishing this task effectively.

•There should be a provision of technical assistance to farming community to follow respective production technologies according to time and space.

Courtesy: The DAWN;

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