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Impact OF Resource Conservation (Zero Tillage) Technology on Wheat Production


Technological Breakthrough is Imperative Wheat Cultivation Problems in Paddy Country

Wheat Cultivation Problems in Paddy Country

Resource Conservation Technology (RCT)

Promotion of Conservation Tillage Technology in Pakistan

Wheat Sowing with RCT during Rabi 1997-98

Wheat Sowing with RCT Technology during Rabi 1998-99

Impact Assessment of RCT during Rabi 1998-99

Results and Discussions

1- Prelude

Agriculture contributes almost 24.6% of GDP of Pakistan. In addition, it provides employment to approximately 52% of total labor force of the country and more than 70% of the population is directly or indirectly dependent upon agriculture. Besides meeting ever-growing food and fiber needs of the nation, agriculture sector contributes about 75% of foreign exchange earnings of the country.

Agriculture development is, therefore, imperative for meeting the needs of food and fiber of the nation besides ensuring sustainable economic growth of Pakistan.

Wheat is staple food crop of the nation and the Punjab province contributes about 80% of its total production in the country. The per capita consumption of wheat (140kg/capita/annum) is the highest amongst dietary intake pattern of an average Pakistani. Rice consumption stands second with an average of about 17kg per capita per annum. Unfortunately, each year government is
compelled to import wheat in order to fulfil the domestic needs. Foreign exchange requirements for the purpose are mounting for every subsequent year. For example, import of 285,000 MT wheat in 1970-71 amounting to Rs.62.7 million was increased to 1,887,000 MT in 1996-97 with foreign exchange loss of Rs. 14.22 billion. During 1997-98 the import of wheat has further increased to
4,050,000 MT. It is to be noted that import of wheat has increased 6.6 times in quantities but corresponding foreign exchange depletion is 227 times greater.

2- Technological Breakthrough is Imperative

It is alarming to note that there is no marked increase in per capita availability of food grains and any disaster in agricultural sector, at any time, cannot cope with the tremendous population growth rate. A major breakthrough in the agriculture sector is, therefore, required to avert possible catastrophic situation expected in near future. Possible strategies are: either to increase cropped area, or to increase productivity per unit of land, or to apply combination of both the alternatives.

The strategy for bringing more area under cultivation is, nevertheless, very expensive as compared to that of increasing productivity per unit of land. Furthermore, there is great potential for increasing crop yields, which can be achieved in considerable shorter span of time and with much less financial costs. Proper management of production factors such as land, labor,  capital and other water and non-water inputsare the key to meet this end. Mechanization of agricultural operations is an important aspect, which needs to be, adopted alongwith bringing improvements in use of other inputs e.g. water, fertilizer, seed, herbicides, and pesticides.

Steps for efficient/adequate use of other water and non- water inputs as well as various farming operations are required to be initiated at the same time. Adoption of appropriate Irrigation Agronomic practices for on farm water management alongwith use of right type of agricultural equipment to ensure timely and proper establishment of wheat can help in achieving higher levels of productivity in the province.

3- Wheat Cultivation Problems in Paddy Country

In irrigated areas, about 90 percent of wheat is cultivated after harvest of rice and cotton.  Accordingly, there is short window of time available for land preparations for establishing wheat due to late maturing long grain rice varieties. It normally takes 2-3 weeks for rice fields to become workable for land preparations due to antecedent moisture. In addition, reduced day length and sunshine decrease soil and ambient temperature at the time, which delays planting of wheat in paddy tracts.

It has been established that delay in planting of wheat after 20th November results in reduction of potential wheat yield by about 1 % per day. Moreover, farmers cultivate land often without achieving suitable seedbed conditions for planting wheat, which esults in poor crop yields.

Another factor hindering achieving optimum wheat yield in paddy areas is that wheat seed is generally broadcasted into soil clods due to poor land preparations. This leaves unevenly distributed seed in the soil profile leading to much reduced plant emergence. A technological breakthrough is, therefore, imperative to address all these problems in wheat production to meet
requirements of ever increasing population.


4- Resource Conservation Technology (RCT)

Resource Conservation Technology (Zero Tillage, Zero Till or Minimum Tillage) is a special technique of establishing crops without tillage and seedbed preparations. The implement used for this purpose is known as direct drill, which is capable to seed through the residue cover, and provides a firm seed soil contact. The technique has been found useful specially for raising Rabi crops in the rice harvested fields where uncertain rains and excessive soil moisture do not permit timely sowing of wheat. Beside this, the technology also saves expenditure involved in seedbed preparations. Post sowing weed control in Conservation Tillage requires use of herbicides similar to the conventional sowing system. This technique of sowing wheat has been found useful is now followed extensively in many countries like USA. Australia, Brazil. South Africa and New Zealand.

5- Promotion of Conservation Tillage Technology in Pakistan

A seed drill, which can sow wheat in paddy fields, was earlier developed at Massey University, New Zealand. The seed drill referred to as "zero tillage drill" was fabricated in Pakistan with assistance from New Zealand experts in collaboration with Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Islamabad.

Initial research experiments with conservation tillage technology were carried out by PARC in mid 1980's. These proved quite successful, but because of lack of funding and other resources, its wide scale replication could not be promoted. Limited field trials for wheat establishment with this technique were undertaken in the rice growing areas ofOECF/Japan assisted OFWM-III Project in Gujranwala/Gujrat region in the Punjab and Larkana/Shikarpur districts in Sindh in 1996. Five drills were procured under the project for the purpose. Results of these trials indicated that conservation tillage method of planting wheat resulted in 28% higher yields compared to those with conventional method. In addition, a saving of about Rs.750/acre was noted in production costs as a result of no land preparations.

Zero Tillage technology was demonstrated on large area in rice-wheat system of Punjab during Rabi 1997 and 10 zero tillage drills were arranged for the purpose. Under OECF/Japan assisted OFWM Program 10 Field Teams were organized to drill about 1,000 acres in Gujranwala, Lahore, Sialkot, Sheikhupura, Gujrat, and Mandi Bahaudin districts. The OFWM staff provided drills, technical know-how, and training free of charge to the farmers. Where farmer did not own tractors, the Field Teams provided drill and tractor with a charge of Rs. 100 per acre.

Prior to the planting of wheat crop, training sessions for the OFWM staff and farmers were arranged at Area Team level. In these sessions, the problems of low wheat yield particularly late planting after rice were highlighted. The need for zero tillage drill, its handling (calibration for seed and fertilizer), and actual operation in the field were demonstrated to each team.

Follow up activities were also arranged to carry out the operation smoothly and adoption of other agronomic practices, particularly application ofweedicides etc. A brochure on zero tillage wheat production technology was prepared in English as well as Urdu and was distributed among field staff and farmers.

In November, 1997 at the request of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Islamabad, Government of New Zealand financed the services of an expert from Massey University for providing training and technical assistance related to the use of conservation tillage technology in wheat farming. This helped launching a campaign for promotion of "Participatory Resource Conservation Technology for Wheat Production" through introduction of conservation tillage technology in rice growing areas.

This included:

i) Training of trainers, field staff, and farmers in conservation tillage technology.
ii) Assistance of local manufacturers for up-gradation of available zero tillage drills.
iii) Liaison with researchers, policy makers, and implementation agencies for wide spread promotion of technology.
iv) Field demonstration on about 1000 acres, located at 150 sites for conservation tillage wheat sowing in rice growing areas during Rabi 1997-98.

Training of Trainers, field staff, farmers, and field demonstrations were conducted by the New Zealand expert in Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot, and Hafizabad areas. A concluding seminar on "Promotion of Participatory Resource Conservation Technology for Wheat Production in Rice Cultivated Areas in Pakistan" was held at Lahore. A number of recommendations were made for further promotion of the technology on large scale.

6- Wheat Sowing with RCT during Rabi 1997-98

Wheat sowing season in 1997-98 was an unexpected abnormal wet year with unprecedented rains in November and December. The wet spell further continued through the Rabi season, which affected even growth of the crop in low-lying areas. This delayed normal cultivation even in non-rice areas. The inability of farmers to cultivate and prepare seed bed in conventional planting during this season was worked out to be rather a blessing for farmers who wished to ow wheat under zero tillage technology.

M/S Halcrow Rural Management conducted the impact assessment of RCT technology during Rabi 1997-98 and found that:

mean wheat yield increased by 148 kg/ha over conventional method of cultivation.
CT technology can lead to an increase in stem borer larvae population in some areas, but this increase is relatively insignificant compared with the increase in population numbers when rice stubble is left in fallow fields.
The time of planting of rice has a significant affect on the incidence of stem borer attack with late planted rice generally being susceptible.
Rice stem borers are, however, very easy to control using recommended insecticides at the correct time.

The results of analysis supported the results reported by Inayat et al. where they have stated that the rate of mortality of hibernating stem borers was approximately the same for RCT technology and control plots.

It is concluded that worries in some circles about problem of increasing rice borer population associated with adoption of RCT technology are unfounded.

Although the mean weed population density in the RCT technology fields (22.6/m2) was 22.6 percent less than the control plots (29.2/m2), which was not statistically significant.

There were also no significant differences in mean height of weeds.


7- Wheat Sowing with RCT Technology during Rabi 1998-99

Keeping in view the positive impact of RCT technology on wheat yield during Rabi 1997-98, the Directorate of OFWM, Punjab continued demonstration of the same in the paddy country. CT technology was demonstrated on 304 sites in the districts of Mandi Bahawaldin, Gujrat, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura and Lahore.

There were still certain apprehensions among some researchers and experts about the advantages, disadvantages and constraints of CT technology. It was, therefore, felt to monitor and evaluate this technology closely and vigorously before its wider replication in the country. Accordingly, on the request of Director General Agriculture (Water Management), an Expert Committee was constituted by the Secretary Agriculture, Government of the Punjab. The committee is comprised of experts from National Agriculture Research Council (NARC), Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), Ayub Agriculture Research Institute. Faisalabad, Agriculture Extension and Adaptive Research wing of the Punjab Agriculture Department, On-Farm Water Management (OFWM) and a Professor (Retd.) from the Agronomy Department, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. The main task of the committee was to:

* Monitor and evaluate the possibility of sprouting rice stubble and stem borer attack on the subsequent crop.

* Ascertain the suitability of conservation tillage technology before wider replication during the next year, i.e. 1999-2000.

* Recommend necessary steps to avoid any implementation problems.

In addition, for independent organizations to closely monitor and evaluate CT demonstration trials, International Irrigation Management Institute (IIMI)-Pakistan on the request of Director General Agriculture (Water Management) provided the necessary research backup not only in rice-wheat cropping system but also in cotton-wheat based systems in the Punjab. Impact assessment of CT technology was, according, conducted by the IIMI-Pakistan during Rabi 1998-99 and it was observed that CT technology:

* Saves cultivation costs to the tune of Rs.500-800 per acre in the case of small farmers and Rs. 1.000-1,500 per acre in the case of medium to large farmers.

* Assists early sowing of the wheat crop.

* Saves 30-50 percent irrigation water in the case of first irrigation after sowing. and 15-20 percent in subsequent events.

* Reduces weed germination up to a certain extent.

* Improves soil fertility.

* Enhances water and fertilizer use efficiency.

* Accelerates decay process of rice stubble, which improves soil microbial activities.

* Increases wheat productivity in the range of 15-20 percent, if property implemented.


8- Impact Assessment of RCT during Rabi 1998-99

Because of the apparent advantages of RCT during 1997, OFWM Punjab decided to demonstrate this technique in the rice-wheat zone on large number of farmers' fields in Rabi 1998. Field demonstration of RCT was, accordingly, carried out at 304 different sites covering 2,193 acres in the districts of Lahore, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Gujrat and Mandi Bahaudin.

The major constraints faced during last year was that of availability of limited number of RCT drills, i.e. only 5 drills were available with OFWM. At that time 5 drills were borrowed from PARC. During Rabi 1998, 23 RCT were available (12 from OFWM. 3 from FAO assisted "Special Program for Food Security" and 8 purchased by the farmers). It is worth mentioning that farming community appreciated RCT and purchased 8 RCT drills to replicate this technology in their areas.

Prior to sowing the wheat, training sessions were organized for the OFWM staff and the farmers. During the sessions, the problems of low wheat yield, particularly late planting after rice crop and the possible benefits of using RCT were highlighted. The operation of the zero tillage drill, in particular calibration for different seed and fertilizer application rates and actual operation in field were demonstrated to the staff and farmers. Moreover, brochures on zero tillage wheat production were prepared in English and Urdu by OFWM. These were distributed to the field staff. administrators, policy makers and farmers. In addition, farmers' day was held at a number of locations, where farmers could meet and examine the field days.

Prior to carry out impact assessment survey, OFWM field staff was trained in field sampling techniques and identification of stem borer larvae, weeds etc. Classroom lectures and field practice were held in Lahore. Gujranwala and Gujrat.


OFWM staff conducted day to day supervision and collected data regularly. During field visits, farmer's interviews and personal observations were made as well regarding sowing, machinery application, seed germination, stubble sprouting, the presence of stem borer larvae etc. Detailed data on all 304 sites have been collected and is being analyzed. Due to time constraint, a preliminary report on impact assessment of RCT is prepared by taking randomly 5 sites per tehsil.

Accordingly, data of 65 sites in tehsils of Daska, Phalia, Kamoke, Gujranwala, Nosheran Virkan, Wazirabad,Gujrat, Hafizabad, Kharian, Mandi Bahudin, Ferozewala, Lahore and Sheikhupura were taken for analysis. Farmer-wise details regarding wheat yield data, net income data, monitoring of stem borer larvae, and water saving are given in annexures-C,D,E and F, respectively.

Number of stem borer larvae in the rice stubble was counted in 5 samples per acre of 1m2. To achieve this stubble had to be dissected. Similarly, to monitor weeds, 5 samples per acre of 1m2 were taken. Crop cutting were used to compare yields from RCT and control plots. In each plot, 4 crop cuttings were taken at random each measuring 2m x 2m (4 m2). The weight of wheat bundles was recorded and ears were removed and dried. Later, the ears were thrashed and the grains were weighed.

The monitoring and evaluation of RCT field demonstration as indicated above were carried out by making physical measurements (where possible), interviewing farmers, and by recording observations based on the following indicators for both the RCT and conventional practices:

* Time savings in wheat sowing
* Costs involved in seedbed preparation
* Irrigation
* Stem borer infestation
* Weed infestation
* Wheat yield
* Yield trend with time of sowing
* Net income
* Views on future prospects of adoption of RCT.

9- Results and Discussions

Results of the impact assessment survey of RCT are given below:

(i) Time Saving in Wheat Sowing
On majority of the farms it was observed that RCT saves wheat-sowing time by at least one week (4-11 days). This was mainly due to the fact that this technique allowed wheat sowing in the rice harvested fields having excessive soil moisture. which would otherwise be not possible with conventional method of seedbed preparation. The time saving could even be better on larger farms.

(ii) Cultivation Cost
Under conventional cultivation plots, about 5-6 plowing and same number of planking were performed to each proper seedbed preparation. This costed on an average Rs.700 per acre (Rs.350-Rs. 1,000) against average RCT cost of Rs.148 per acre (Rs.100-Rs.150) - a saving of Rs.552 per acre. It clearly indicates that RCT also saves expenditure involved in seedbed preparations by eliminating plowing and planking costs.

(iii) Saving in Irrigation Water
Data on 18 plots applying tubewell water (only) was analyzed and it was observed that there were saving of 21-63 percent (on an average 38%) in irrigation water during the first irrigation whereas, water savings during subsequent irrigations were about 6-45 percent (on an average 25%).

Farmers appreciated RCT as it allowed rapid movement of water to the other end of the field as a result of less deep percolation. On the other hand with conventional tillage method , more water is required to be applied to completely irrigate a field. It can be inferred that RCT not only increases water use efficiency but also results in water saving.

(iv) Stem Borer Infestation
There was no significant difference between the number of larvae in the RCT and control plots.

Farmers are mostly using weedicide on paddy crop, and as a consequence, this might be one of the reasons for very few cases of presence of stem borer in the rice stubble. The time of planting of rice has a significant affect on the incidence of stem borer attack with late-planted rice generally being most susceptible. However, rice stem borers are very easy to control by using recommended insecticides at the correct time. The findings of OFWM staff are, therefore, in agreement to the monitoring results of rice stem borer conducted by M/S Halcrow Rural Management and report of Inayatullah et al (1989).

(v) Weed Infestation
It was observed that weed growth per unit area was about 30 percent less in RCT plots (3.83/m2) as compared to plots with 5-6 plowings (5.3/m2). It was also observed that weeds in RCT plots were much weaker than those in the control plots and were easy to control by weedicide application.

An early decaying of rice stubble in RCT plots in contrast to control plots was also observed. This was mainly due to the fact the nitrogenous fertilizer has close contact with the roots of rice stubble, which enhanced stubble rotting. This phenomenon also results in increased soil microbial activities thereby, improving soil fertility

(vi) Wheat Yield
It was observed that number of tillers per square meter on RCT plots (383/m2) were 10 percent higher than those on the control plots (346/m2). For all 65 sites, the mean yield of wheat planted with RCT was significantly higher than the control plots, i.e. 1,592 kg/acre (800-2320kg/acre) from RCT compared with 1,361 kg/acre (461-1920kg/acre) from the control plots - an increase of 231 kg/acre (17%). It can be easily inferred that application of RCT provides better environment for wheat growth by allowing early sowing of wheat, better water and fertilizer uptake etc.

(vii) Yield Trend with Time of Planting
The wheat sowing date of RCT and Control plots were almost the same. The spread of planting time was from 26th October to 12th December. The affect of planting date on yields in case of RCT plots is shown in Fig.3 and 4, respectively. Fig-3 gives overall picture of wheat sown in the season whereas, Fig-4 indicates the loss in wheat yield planted after 20th November. The mean yield on RCT plot falls by about 1.4 kg per day (Fig-3). The decrease in yield after 20th November was much larger i.e. 13 kg per day (Fig-4) on the RCT plot (0.8% per day).

Similarly, the affect of planting date on yields in case of Control plots is shown in Fig.5 and 6, respectively. Fig-5 gives overall picture of wheat sown in the season whereas, Fig-6 indicates the loss in wheat yield planted after 20th November. The mean yield on Control plot falls by 1.35kg per day (Fig-5). The decrease in yield after 20th November was much larger i.e. 7.4kg per
day (Fig-6) on the control plot (0.5% per day).


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