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Punjab Agri Experts Call for Ban on 'Spring Maize' as Farmers Embrace Water-Guzzling Crop

The water-intensive spring maize cultivation is one of the most pressing issues facing the Punjab government, as agriculture experts continue to express their worries.

Shivam Dwivedi
Punjab Agri Experts Call for Ban on 'Spring Maize' as Farmers Embrace Water-Guzzling Crop (Photo Source: Pixabay)
Punjab Agri Experts Call for Ban on 'Spring Maize' as Farmers Embrace Water-Guzzling Crop (Photo Source: Pixabay)

Punjab Agriculture Experts are urging to the government to ban the cultivation of ‘spring maize’ amid worries that it uses too much water. As the state is already struggling with a severe water crisis, the increasing popularity of ‘spring corn’ is worrying experts.

Spring maize is sown in February and harvested in June. Despite not being a recommended crop, it has gained traction among farmers in recent years. Experts estimate that this year alone, approximately one lakh hectares (2.50 lakh acres) of land was used for cultivating spring maize, compared to 44,000 hectares in 2022. The Punjab Mandi Board data reveals that 32 lakh quintals of spring maize arrived in the state's markets by June 30. This figure represents a 50% increase compared to the corresponding period in 2022 when 21 lakh quintals hit the mandis.

Gurvinder Singh, the agriculture director, emphasized that the state only promotes kharif season maize as an alternative to paddy, while maize sown in February poses significant hazards to Punjab's water resources. Singh stressed the need for sustainable farming practices, considering the rapidly depleting groundwater table. He called for a ban on spring maize cultivation and strict enforcement of water-saving technologies such as drip irrigation when allowing its cultivation.

The popularity of spring maize can be attributed to the rise of private silage manufacturing plants across different parts of Punjab. The crop is primarily cultivated in the potato belt of the Doaba region, encompassing Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, and Kapurthala districts, as well as in Ludhiana, Gurdaspur, and Patiala.

Despite its advantages in terms of silage production, spring maize has adverse implications for Punjab's agricultural ecosystem. Out of the 31.53 lakh quintals of maize that arrived in mandis by the end of June, 31.11 lakh quintals were purchased by private buyers below the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 2,090 per quintal. This has sparked protests by various farmer unions, who argue that the low rates have caused significant financial losses.

Singh acknowledged that although farmers may receive less than the MSP for spring maize, the high yield per acre compensates for the lower prices. However, he emphasized the hazards associated with cultivating spring maize, which pose a threat to Punjab's agricultural sustainability.

Ajmer Brar, an agronomist and water management expert at the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), suggested diversifying the state's crop pattern from paddy to maize, cotton, and basmati. However, Brar emphasized that the ideal alternative to spring maize is kharif maize, which is grown during the paddy season from June to October. Kharif maize requires only 4-5 irrigation cycles during the rainy season, whereas spring or summer maize demands 28-30 irrigation cycles. Brar called on the Punjab government to either ban spring maize or permit its cultivation solely with water-saving technologies like drip irrigation.

The high temperatures during the peak summer season necessitate frequent watering of the maize crop, leading to a significant impact on the water table. Principal maize breeder at PAU, Surinder Kaur Sandhu, highlighted a concerning trend where farmers have started sowing maize between wheat and paddy, a practice not recommended for Punjab. Sandhu expressed concerns about the overstressing of farmland and the potential negative consequences.

She also mentioned the sudden increase in silage manufacturing units over the past 3-4 years, driven by the escalating prices of wheat straw or 'toori,' a key ingredient in cattle fodder. Sandhu called for government intervention in light of Punjab's water crisis.

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