I strongly believe that farmers are scientists in their own fashion. Their basic observations and interpretations may appear crude, but the outcome can be invaluable and may even lead to the refinement of certain cultivation practices.
When I heard about the experiments in pigeonpea being conducted by a farmer named Gurulingappa- living in Hudgi village, Humnabad taluk, of Karnataka’s Bidar district, I wanted to meet him. According to reports, Gurulingappa had generated very high yields — close to 20 quintals per acre — a figure confirmed by scientists at Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Gulburga.
What was remarkable about this farmer was his method of raising the crop: Gurulingappa raised pigeonpea plants in polythene bags and then transplanted the seedlings in the field. This transplanting technique was unheard of, but now scientists from several agricultural colleges have started trials to see if the results can be replicated and validated.
Gurulingappa, who is in his mid-50s and has over 35 years of experience in farming, has lived in Hudgi all his life; his family have been in farming for several generations.
Over the years, he has been conducting experiments to find ways to touch the highest yield potential of some key crops.
Says he, “There is no end for learning; one finding leads to another question which requires a new set of experiments. It appears to me that we have not yet tapped the real yield potential of some of our popular varieties of pigeonpea.”
Here are his views on several aspects of pigeonpea cultivation and other crop experiments:
Dr G Shankar : Who is your inspiration for these experiments? How do you design your experiments?
Gurulingappa: Nature is my inspiration [smiles]. I consult KVK scientists for key information and adopt them into my planning. The final design is solely mine.
GS: We heard about your new technique of raising pigeonpea in polythene bags and transplanting the seedlings to get very high yields. Could you please explain this method?
Guru: I tried this transplanting technique last year. This year I went for dibbling. So far I do not see any difference between last year’s crop (which was transplanted) and the current crop, which has been dibbled. I have made some adjustments in spacing. The flowering in the current crop indicates that I may get yields touching last year’s levels, and that too at a reduced cultivation cost.
GS: Do you mean to say that sowing is better than transplanting?
Guru: I did not mean that. Transplanting is a labour intensive method and costlier by Rs2500 per acre. But it is well suited for places where there are limited irrigation facilities.
GS: Can we say the key element in your cultivation practice is spacing?
Guru: Yes. In my fields, some plants give a yield of about 1.5kg; some give about a kilo. I keep observing the impact of spacing. I have made a theoretical calculations regarding the number of plants that can be expected per acre at different spacing distances. I have set my target yields at each spacing level and am working to achieve them. My target is to touch 20 quintals / acre.
GS: What is the impact of wider spacing?
Guru: It helps in realising better flowering and pod setting by allowing the growth of a higher number of productive branches. The plants get more sunight; good aeration reduces humidity in the microclimate, which in turn keeps diseases and pests at bay.
GS: Have you tried this spacing experiment for other crops?
Guru: Obviously, it should work for every crop. For example, for chickpea, using a spacing of 1’ × 1’, I got as much as 8–10 quintals per acre, as compared to conventional sowing in which one gets only 4–5 quintals.
GS: What other innovations have you attempted?
Guru: I have tried experimenting with sugarcane. I wanted to get higher yields with minimum expenditure. I have succeeded in cutting 50 tonnes / acre at a cost of only Rs15,000. The second [ratoon] crop gave me 45 tonnes, at a cost of only Rs3,000. I managed weeds just with mulching. No inter cultivation at all. This helped in moisture conservation and enhanced the activity of natural enemies, which reduced the cost of irrigation and pesticide use.
GS: Will similar mulching be of any use in pigeonpea?
Guru: In my view, mulching may not suit pigeonpea (in my type of heavy soil). In the case that it rains heavily, the excess moisture in the soil would ruin the crop.
GS: What was the first reaction of KVK scientists and your fellow farmers when they saw your method of cultivating pigeonpea?
Guru: The reaction of the scientists was like that of a teacher seeing his student’s achievements. They were immensely elated and started spreading the message to other universities across states. Just last week, there was a visit from a batch of farmers and department officials from Tamil Nadu who came to see this plot. As for my fellow farmers, when they first saw me use only 500 grams of seed, as compared to the normal 5 kg per acre, and with unusually wide spacing, they thought that I must have gone insane. But when they saw the results later, they were convinced.
GS: Have other farmers started adopting this method?
Guru: After seeing my success, many people in our village and neighbouring villages have started using this method. I believe that Bijapur farmers have also started going for wider spacing.
GS: Have you heard about hybrid pigeonpea?
Guru: No, haven’t heard of it. If you could arrange for some seeds before the beginning of next season, I shall take it up.
GS: Some farmers complain they do not get quality seeds. Do you buy pigeonpea seeds every year? What is your view about the quality of seeds?
Guru: I buy certified seeds from KVK, Bidar. I do not subscribe to the debate on quality. Quality is one aspect. But what you practice in the field is also important; things should be done at the right time and precisely. Blaming the seed is an act to hide our inefficiencies.
GS: We wish to bring farmers from other states to show your fields. How do you feel about it?
Guru: Many have already visited my fields — department officials, progressive farmers from Tamil Nadu, scientists, etc. I have opened a visitor’s book. It is a good feeling to know that others can learn from me. I also get to learn some things from them. Learning has no age.
GS: Will your children take up this profession? Have they got a similar inquisitiveness?
Guru: I have one son. He is still studying, and he may not come to this profession. It is losing its value day by day. For the products that you manufacture, you fix the price. But for the crop I grow with so much care, somebody else fixes the price. It is becoming less profitable with the rise in costs. If my son continues in this field and becomes a farmer like me, no family will join ours for a marriage alliance.
Dr G Shankar is general manager (customer relations) at Rallis India Ltd.