Dark plumes of smoke engulfed Dilip Baral’s wide paddy fields in Odisha’s Resinga village for nearly two decades. Like the majority of the farmers in the country, Dilip too would burn the agricultural waste after harvesting his rice crop.
Since it was the fastest method to clear the land and begin another sowing cycle, the 52-year-old didn’t mind the air pollution it caused. It was either spending thousands of rupees to clear the fields or compromise on his health for a day or two.
However, things changed when the International Potato Centre approached a couple of veteran farmers like him in the village to introduce a paddy straw-based technique of growing potatoes.
Surprised at first on finding out that paddy straw can be an asset in a way that can save water and labour costs, Dilip agreed to implement the method and underwent the training.
Two years after the training, Dilip has managed to put an end to the practice of stubble burning. Additionally, in the last harvesting cycle, he produced 20 quintals of potatoes on 1.4 acres.
“This has been a huge relief for me and other farmers in the village who have replicated the model. Contrary to my fear, the potato variety quality is as good as the ones grown conventionally and I am fetching the same price. In fact, I am saving money on labour cost and water. It is a win-win solution for farmers,” Dilip tells The Better India.
How the Technique Works
In a conventional method, the hardest part of potato farming is extensive ground preparation. The soil is harrowed to remove the weed roots completely. It takes multiple rounds of harrowing, rolling and ploughing before reaching a suitable soil condition. The land has to be drained and aerated properly to accommodate the seed potatoes or tubers.
In this method, the levelling and tilling is not needed. The tubers are planted on the soil at a distance of 10 inches in a row. The distance between each row is 1.5 feet.
“After planting the tuber, cover it with compost comprising cow dung and kitchen waste. Sprinkle fertiliser around the compost and spread the layers of paddy straw above it. After seven days, water the field. For its maintenance, water every 20-25 days and allow the tuber to germinate. The tuber will use paddy straw to climb and it will grow at least 15 inches tall. It takes around 75 days till the final produce is ready,” explains Dilip.
Advantages of Paddy Straw Potato Farming
The biggest advantage says Dilip is the dramatic reduction in water usage by 80%, “Paddy straw is superior when it comes to holding moisture for a longer period so the water requirement is less. I can conserve a lot of water for days when the rains are erratic.”
The straw helps in controlling weed growth, the most crucial part of potato farming, “Weeds
often compete with potatoes for light, water and nutrients, and this pressure can result in crop losses up to 30-40%. Usually, farmers employ labourers to remove the weed manually but thanks to paddy straw all these problems are eliminated.”
Seeing Dilip’s successful implementation, close to 100 farmers have learnt the technique from him.
Deepak Kumar Baral is one such farmer. A few years ago Deepak and his father had discontinued potato farming due to severe losses. The input costs were more than the price he was getting for the potatoes. However, after learning about minimal expenses of straw-based farming, he implemented it on his farm.
“We planted the potatoes last month. It was a hassle-free process and we saved close to Rs 2000. The paddy straw was readily available from our farm and we didn’t have to purchase water. So far, it is showing promising growth. If this works, we will expand it,” adds Deepak.
Stubble burning and water scarcity being two inevitable challenges for farmers, the paddy straw potato farming could be looked at as a viable solution.
Edited by Yoshita Rao