Commodity Analysis

Happy Seeder: A low-cost alternative to stubble burning

Rajalakshmi Nirmal | Updated on November 17, 2019 Published on November 17, 2019

We see how Happy Seeder works and how it can save costs for farmers

Every day, chota Sidhu wakes up by the sound of his father coughing. “At 6.30 in the morning, abba is already in the field…,” Sidhu murmurs. As he gets up from the rope cot, rubbing his eyes, he sees his father clearing the burnt stubble in the field and coughing his lungs out.

For many farmers and others in Punjab, fresh air is not a given. In fact, in most days in October, they don’t get to see the sky or the Sun because the smoke from burning of paddy stubble, and other particulates, obscure the sight of sky.

Many say burning the stubble is the easiest and the most cost-effective way for a farmer to clear the left-over paddy straws, and that’s why they do it. But this is not true. This article is inspired by the findings from a survey done by Gurupreet Singh, a post-graduate scholar in IIM-Ahmedabad, who interned with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT) last year.

He interviewed a group of 120 farmers across Karnal (Haryana), Ludhiana, and Sangrur (Punjab) to understand what it takes to burn the stubble versus the cost of using Happy Seeder, a tractor-operated machine for in-situ management of paddy stubble (straw). The survey results showed that the use of Happy Seeder for wheat sowing costs ₹1,656/acre including the rental cost paid to combine harvester, cost of fuel consumed, etc. This was a 43 per cent saving in cost for farmers over the traditional method of sowing.

Here we see how Happy Seeder works and how it can save costs for farmers.



Cost advantage

Despite government subsidy, the adoption of Happy Seeder has not been to the tune expected. But BusinessLine, after speaking to farmers who used this implement, received positive feedback. In Karnal, Haryana, Vikas Chaudhary, a progressive farmer, who has been using Happy Seeder for sowing wheat for many years now, said: “I am happy with the implement. It saves me money. It also gives higher yield on wheat as the soil is resistant to more heat in February and March and can take more water if there are unexpected rains as the straw is in the soil acts as a mulch cover. My yield is 27-28 quintals/acre compared with the 22-24 quintals/acre of others in the neighbourhood who do not use Happy Seeder.” While Happy Seeder helping improve wheat yield is a supplementary benefit, the highlight of the machine is the saving in cost of wheat sowing.

Sample this: After paddy harvest using a combine, if a farmer burns the left-over straw, he has to do some preparatory work on the field to be able to sow wheat. First, he irrigates the land. Then he ploughs the soil using a harrow or some other implement and then levels the soil. After this, he broadcasts the seeds manually and uses a seed drill or rotavator to ensure seeds go inside the soil. The process involves use of labour and renting/buying of implements for ploughing, levelling and sowing.

The cost of the above process adds up to ₹3,500-4,000/acre. In comparison, the cost of sowing using Happy Seeder after a combine harvester fitted with Super-SMS (Straw Management System) comes to ₹1,600-1,800/acre.

In a paper published in Science journal, ML Jat, Principal Scientist at CIMMYT, and his co-authors say that Happy Seeder–based systems are more profitable than alternative farming practices. The maximum profit an average farmer can gain by switching from the common burning system to the Happy Seeder system is higher by 44 per cent.

Advantages of zero tilling

There are two options before a farmer who does not burn the stubble. One option is, after using a combine harvester with Super-SMS (an attachment fitted into the harvester which ensures that the straw thrown out by the harvester gets cut and spread evenly), the farmer can use a Happy Seeder. This machine, which is mounted on a tractor, sows wheat seeds even as the straw remains on the soil.

The second option is, after using a combine fitted with Super-SMS, a farmer can use a mulcher, an implement which reduces the size of the straw and makes a layer on the surface of the soil, followed by a rotavator that tills the soil (mixes left-over straw pieces into the soil), and then use a wheat-sowing drill to sow seeds.

Both the options work on different principles. In the first option, where Happy Seeder is used, there is no tilling of the soil. This goes against the age-old belief that ploughing is a necessary step before sowing. The straw from the previous paddy crop is cut into small pieces and deposited on the soil to stay as a protective layer. In the second option, however, where one uses a plough, the principle is to break the soil and turn it over to bring nutrients to the top, and in the process cut weeds, too.

Farmers who are traditionally used to tilling the soil, continue to prefer it. But there is scientific evidence to prove that zero tilling helps improve soil health, says ML Jat. “Zero tillage is scientifically proven to help soil and the crop in the long run. It helps prevent soil erosion, increases water absorption, and, over time, also helps crops grown in the field generate better yield.”

S Trilochan Mohapatra, Director-General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, also believes in the effectiveness of zero tilling.

Improving awareness

A survey done by Precision Agriculture for Development, a global NGO which works in the agriculture sector, in six States in India including Punjab and Haryana, found that out of a group of 2,000-plus farmers across seven districts of Haryana and Punjab with high rates of crop-burning, 23 per cent had not heard of Happy Seeder. There is thus lot more work that needs to be done by the State machinery in Punjab.

There is need for awareness creation through agriculture officers on nuances of using Happy Seeder, including the right timing of irrigation of the wheat crop and the right time for weedicide spray. This aside, manufacturers need to hand-hold farmers in the initial leg of using the machine and give prompt after-sales service.

Published on November 17, 2019
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