Opinion

TN’s progressive agri budget

S Chandramohan | Updated on September 15, 2021

Steps on FPOs, drones and export facilitation centres are noteworthy

The holistic agri budget presented for the first time by the Tamil Nadu Government, encompassing a three-fold increase in outlay over last year and several innovative measures, should be applauded.

The proposal to bring in 11.75 lakh hectares of fallow land to net area sown with commensurate increase in water resources, doubling the cropping area, overall development to ensure self-sufficiency in 2,500 village panchayats every year, and skilling of youth to take up agriculture in their villages will enhance productivity and farm incomes.

The pulses mission in selected districts, encouraging farmers to sow pulses along the bunds of paddy fields as intercrops, procure the same at MSP and supply to the noon meal scheme, is a laudable measure as it would meet the twin objectives of increasing the farm income and the protein requirement of children.

Support for collective farming to new 1,100 FPOs (farmer producer organisations) to procure agri machinery and priority for purchase of mini trucks for transportation of agricultural produce to metropolitan areas would enable FPOs to earn better income.

Focus on prime horticultural districts where certain crops are predominantly grown — like pepper and onion in Namakkal, cashew and jackfruit in Cuddalore — with support from sowing to marketing of produce will immensely benefit the farmers. More such targeted schemes are required in several districts.

Linking regulated markets, mandis and FPOs with traders at the national level under a software platform and encouraging e-auction will enable farmers to get fair price.

Each crop takes micronutrients in different proportions. Normally farmers use nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and tend to ignore micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, etc., which are required only in small quantity. If farmers understand the significance of micronutrients and start using them, the yield would increase substantially. Farm extension services can play a role here.

Farmers use different kinds of green manure crop, which improves the quality of the soil by absorbing nitrogen. But seeds are not always available when farmers need them for planting. In order to supply green manure seeds to more number of farmers, some of the farm ryots must be encouraged to grow green manure seeds.

Also, farmers must be taught to maintain accounts. Each farmer needs to know precisely the cost added in each activity in order to know where to focus for controlling costs.

Digital push

In addition, the FPOs should be made digitally savvy. Each FPO needs a professional CEO who is passionate about agriculture.

Digital tools are important to connect the farmers, supply chain and the market to the FPOs. Each FPO should be attached to an agri-extension officer and the progress needs to be monitored on a monthly basis. FPOs should also be trained and supported to extend the scope of their activity to value-added processing and, initially, all FPOs should start primary processing with the help of the already established centres.

In the mandis it is important that assaying facility is made available. There are few start-ups like Intello Labs working in this area.

In the case of integrated farming, 45 per cent of the income comes from animal husbandry, whereas there is no adequate support to get a fair price for sheep, goats, etc., due to intermediaries. Support for vaccination and maintenance is also required. Every farmer should be encouraged to move to integrated farming with support and training

Precision agriculture is a way for farmers to maximise efficiency of water, fertiliser and pesticide use and improve overall productivity, quality and yield. Drones can help farmers in several ways to address the agricultural challenges.

Drones can be used for soil and field analysis for irrigation, fertilisation and planting activities including checking nutrient levels, moisture concentrations, and erosion among others. They can also perform continuous and consistent crop surveillance that can trigger actions to mitigate the effect of various biotic and abiotic stresses on crops. The data generated through such surveillance can help site-specific agronomy to optimise the use of inputs and promote sustainable farming.

Drones are capable of spraying precise amounts of disease-control products in a way that can ensure correct dosage and, thereby, improve the overall productivity.

With fragmented landholding, which is lower in Tamil Nadu compared to the all-India average, farmers cannot afford to use drones. It is commendable that the budget has provided a fillip in this direction by providing funds for purchase of four drones.

The Tamil Nadu Government should encourage farmers to use drones by providing subsidy in custom hiring.

The amount allocated in the budget towards custom hiring centres may be targeted towards specific equipment apart from tractors, rotavators, transplanters, pneumatic planters and balers, which would help FPOs and farmers enhance their productivity and save on labour cost.

Establishment of an agriculture export facilitation centre in Chennai — to provide integrated information on export market opportunities — and three laboratories, which will have testing facilities for detection of pesticides and provide subsidy on testing, are laudable steps to promote exports.

FPOs and farmers have to be handheld in this initiative through agri universities and research centres.

The writer is Director & Group President Finance, TAFE. Views are personal

Published on September 15, 2021

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