A hybridization drive launched by US multinational agricultural chemical and seed firm Corteva Agriscience has helped in doubling millets yield in India despite a drop in the acreage annually, a top official of the firm in India said. 

“Corteva hybrid millet seeds result in 15-20 per cent higher yield, and provide disease resistance and early maturity resulting  in high-stress tolerance,” said Gurpreet Bhathal, Marketing Director, Corteva Agriscience South Asia.

According to various data available on Indian coarse cereals production, the per hectare yield has increased from 1,617 kg in 2012-13 to 2,146 kg in 2020-21. In States such as Assam, it has more than trebled to 2,883 kg from 834 kg during the period, while doubling in others like Chhattisgarh.

Gurpreet Bhathal, Marketing Director, Corteva Agriscience South Asia

Gurpreet Bhathal, Marketing Director, Corteva Agriscience South Asia

At the same time, the area under coarse cereals has declined from 252 lakh hectares in 2013-14 to 238 lakh hectares in 2020-21. 

Fodder demand

However, this year, demand for fodder has resulted in strong demand for millets. Last year, the acreage under the coarse cereal was low, said the official of the US firm, spun off in 2018 from DowDuPont that had introduced many hybrid varieties of millets in the country. 

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, bajra and maize led the rise in coarse cereals (millets) acreage during the current kharif sowing season to 172.78 lakh hectares against 167.42 lakh hectares a year ago. 

Corteva is helping increase crop production and enriching farmers’ lives. “A farmer earns around ₹35,000-40,000 per acre based on current commodities pricing (₹2,100/quintal),” said Bhathal. 

A pure play agricultural firm, Corteva is helping growers with an “unrivalled selection” of seed products and “assisting the future generation of farmers” with hybrid millet seeds. “We produce hybrid seeds in a controlled environment and sell those packaged hybrid seeds to maximize productivity and profitability,” the firm’s marketing director said. 

 Climate change impact

While the yield and profit increase, risks are lower due to the seeds and crop protection solutions of Corteva, a name derived from a combination of words that mean “heart” and “nature”, he said. 

The company’s quality seeds assist in lowering the chances of any disease occurring. It results in increased productivity. “Climate change has caused several kinds of abiotic stress in plants, which are the leading causes of crop loss globally, lowering the average yield for most crops by more than 50 per cent,” Bhathal said. 

Though millets are resistant to most abiotic stress such as drought and high temperatures, additional measures are required to make them more robust to climate change impact and associated environmental challenges. “Incorporating stress tolerance characteristics into millets increases output in marginal regions. They aid in overcoming potential food shortages caused by climate change. We bred hybrids which suit different agro-climate zones to give the best yield,” the Corteva official said.  

The US agricultural firm engages with farmers using a variety of conventional and digital methods. The company works with them throughout the year, from sowing to harvest through a variety of initiatives.  

“For instance, the Parvakta programme is a one-of-a-kind project that allows Corteva to engage with numerous advanced farmers spread across rural India. Farmers are trained and educated in all crop management strategies, new hybrids, and so forth. In turn, they educate their fellow farmers and serve as a point of contact for sowing updates, cropping trends, yield, grain price, and so on,” Bhathal said. 

Recently, Corteva organised Bajra Mahotsav in collaboration with a few government organisations and agriculture universities in recognition of millet being declared as International Crop of the Year 2023 by the UN. This is aimed at bringing nutri-cereals into  the lives of farmers of India. 

The Indianapolis-based company, which had marketed Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds as a DuPont subsidiary, has leveraged product differentiation activities such as harvesting days and threshing days to increase farmers’ interest and engagement in millets. Pioneer Hi-Bred is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corteva.

Training farmers

The company is also organising village-level meetings to discuss best agricultural practices and mandated product inspection programmes, so that there are no problems that would impede productivity development later. 

“Corteva aims to help all generations of farmers improve the performance of their farms via agronomy, digital farming, and financial understanding. The company is concentrating its efforts to train farmers on the use of technology-driven solutions that assist them in meeting sustainable development goals of food security and nutrition,” the official said.  

The training helps and guides farmers to produce more through sustainable techniques which can be implemented across the entire farm. “We have a ‘farm enterprise’ approach for our farmers. We try to maximize farm inputs by providing crop protection solutions, if required,  and work for best crop rotation for the farmers,” he said. 

Most of the millet farmers will have access to high-yielding Pioneer brand mustard in the subsequent season, Bhathal said. While offering hybrid millet seeds to farmers, Corteva educates and advises farmers on market trends and demand. 

The company is focusing on educating farmers with the use of technology-driven solutions. “We try to assist farmers with their mechanisation and training needs by offering seed sowing equipment and farm machinery on rent among other things,” Baithal said.