By Karan Kapoor
Ludhiana, May 25 : An increasing number of farmers in Punjab are taking to sunflower cultivation, charmed by its lucrative returns.
The trend is visible considering the area set aside specifically for sunflower and castor cultivation. About five years ago, sunflower was being cultivated on 6,000 to 7,000 hectares of land. Now, it is being cultivated on about 15,000 hectares of land.
One hectare is equal to 2.47 acres or 10000 square meters of area.
The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) recently organized a seminar here to familiarise farmers about sunflower cultivation. The programme provided an opportunity to farmers, scientists and agronomists to openly discuss or come up with their queries with each other.
Farmers were enlightened about the possible different methodologies for an optimum yield.
"In Punjab, the total area under sunflower has increased because of the lucrative prices the farmers received in the last produce. It was about 15,000 hectares last year. But now 5,000 hectares of farming has increased. Most of the sunflower farming takes place in Kapurthala, Ropar and Jalandhar Districts. It fits well in the sunflower-potato rotation and that's why the area devoted to sunflower is more in these districts," said R. K. Bajaj, a senior sunflower breeder at the Punjab Agriculture University.
"Farmers have a large scope of profit because sunflower gives minimum of 20 quintals per hectare and the cost is just rupees 2,000 per quintal which proves very economical to the farmers," Bajaj informed.
It was felt during the seminar that irrigation facilities should be improved to make this crop a success in Punjab. Researchers opined that the farmers have to adopt rotation policies, which can yield them a decent productivity.
According to Assistant Director General of Indian Council of Research, the experts of Punjab Agricultural University can suggest methods that can make this crop profitable.
"We are very much after the area expansion of the crop wherever it is possible in Punjab and the country in whole where ever there are possibilities and irrigation potentials. We need to address this crop during Rabi and summer season," said Dr. V. D. Patil, the Assistant Director General of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research.
"If we have five to six irrigation pumps, we can harvest very good crops of sunflower. The national productivity is 500-600 quintals and if you grow this crop under irrigation conditions, more than one- and-a-half tonnes can be harvested in general," Patil added.
At the outset, many farmers in Punjab were hesitant about the outcome of sunflower. But today they are a happy lot after earning good profits through this cash crop.
Farmers are even keen to increase the acreage of cultivating sunflower and are happy at the government's assurance to promote extensive development of sunflower farming.
"In 1992, I started sunflower farming for the first time. For me, it was a new crop whose outcome I wasn't aware of. We tried out with four to five acre of cultivation and made good profits. The rate what we got was also good and the suggestions we got on sprays, seeds and our handwork made us increase around 25 acre of sunflower farming," said Sarwan Singh Channi, a farmer.
Besides, the high production of sunflower also can also supplement to the shortage of traditional edible oils in the country.
Sunflower cultivation has been favoured by most of the farmers since its dividends are attractive. And, Punjab, which ushered the Green Revolution in India in the 1960s, has today taken to the extensive farming of sunflower.
The stability in the procurement price offered by companies manufacturing edible oil is stated to be the reason for sunflower being brought under increasing acreage.
Earlier, farmers used to earn rupees 18,000 per acre under sunflower cultivated area. The income is now likely to touch rupees 25,000 to 30,000 for the same cultivated area, especially due to increasing oil prices.
Sunflower farming is now seen as an alternative to the rising prices of edible oil in the country. The total area under of cultivation of sunflower farming in India is over 50,000 hectares.