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across the north-west were burning rice straw,
leading to a pall of smoke haze sitting over the
“ the reality is that this creates a terrible
health problem and a terrible soil problem, so
we had to find some machinery that would
plant into rice straw,” Dr Dixon says.
that machinery came in the form of the
Happy Seeder, invented by engineer Professor
John Blackwell from Charles Sturt University
with indian collaborator Dr Harminder Singh
Sidhu and Dasmesh Mechanical works.
the Happy Seeder enables direct seeding
into complete combine-harvested rice residue
by keeping the sowing tines clear of residue,
thus preventing the blockages that make
conventional zero-till drills useless in these
conditions. it has been embraced by farmers
across the north-west and is now being
manufactured by eight local companies in the
Punjab, with 600 machines produced to date.
the Happy Seeder can also be used for DSr,
which is the latest development in CA in india.
DSr, Dr Dixon says, is a “fantastic breakthrough”
made in a project also led by Dr Gill and which
has allowed for double no-till systems of wheat
and rice to be established in the north-west.
“After our success with wheat, the next
challenge was to get the whole system under
conservation agriculture, so we continued on to
herbicides, but they were expensive. research
undertaken by the project showed that the
growers could buy the new herbicides with
savings arising from abandoning a lengthy and
expensive cultivation process that involved
at least six separate tillage operations. High
yields of wheat could be achieved without any
pre-sowing tillage by sowing the crop directly
in the field after the rice crop, where loose
residues were partially burnt or removed.
this zero-till approach not only saved
time and money that could be spent on the
new herbicides, but also led to improved soil
structure and, rather neatly, fewer weeds, as
a result of more ground cover and less soil
“ the driver was to save money on planting
costs that could be spent on the new herbicide
but one of the key outputs was zero-till wheat,”
Dr Gill says. “And now it has taken off.”
new machinery for new sysTems
Aiding the uptake of zero-till wheat was the
development of a revolutionary piece of
machinery that not only made sowing into total
rice residue possible, but also addressed the
problem of burning rice straw.
with many rice crop residues left standing
about one-metre tall and too thick to sow
directly into with conventional seeders, farmers
rice,” Dr Gill says.
the challenge was considerable as DSr
represents a major departure from the way
rice has been traditionally sown. that is, in a
‘puddling’ system where rice seedlings are
transplanted by hand into a slurry above a
compacted clay base.
while it is challenging for growers to change
well-worn practices, it is, Dr Gill says, a natural
continuation of the successful no-till wheat
system that preceded it and which is now in
place across more than a million hectares in the
the environmental benefits of DSr over
puddling are evident. Soil structure is improved,
providing better conditions for root growth
of crops such as wheat grown in rotation
with rice. And paddocks no longer have to
be permanently flooded, meaning far less
irrigation is required, easing pressure on the
depleted groundwater aquifers.
importantly, the technology also provides
some clear-cut economic benefits. Farmers save
money by spending less on expensive diesel
to run water pumps and are also less reliant on
“even if growers are getting an equal yield
to puddling, their profit is greater because the
input costs both from labour and water are
much lower,” Dr Gill says.
BY Dr KuHu CHAtterjee AnD MeLISSA MArInO
sahab singh grows cereal crops,
wheat and rice, as well as sorghum
and maize, in sandy loam soils across
a 42-hectare, family-owned, irrigated
farm near karnal, Haryana, in india’s
Mr singh first experimented
with zero-tillage technology in 1999
and by 2001, with guidance from
scientists from karnal’s directorate
of Wheat Research and ccs Haryana
agricultural university, he had
purchased two zero-tillage machines,
which both fertilise and sow crops. He
now also owns a laser land leveller.
Before adopting zero-tillage, Mr
singh ploughed his fields eight to 10
times, using large quantities of diesel.
Burning also caused a lot of pollution.
Today, he does not burn crop residue
and his environment is not polluted.
Zero-tillage has also brought
savings in water and herbicide use as
well as labour, which is an emerging
issue across north-west india as
workers leave for other industries.
Mr singh only uses herbicides
once every three years to control
Phalaris minor, in comparison with
other growers who must apply it
anually. Better moisture retention
has also helped the crops handle
sudden rises in temperature. during
2012–13, Mr singh’s average wheat
yield was 5.5 tonnes/ha, whereas
the average yield on his neighbours’
farm was less than 4.8 t/ha.
Handling crop residues with
his existing zero-tillage machines
remains a challenge for Mr singh.
While he has tried the Happy
seeder, he found it only suitable
for a narrow window of time as it
was difficult to operate in the early
hours of the day due to wet residue. Sahab Singh
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