Early wheat sowing is a non-cash input that even smallholder farmers can benefit from and is one of the most important adaptations to climate change in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.
Traditionally, farmers in eastern India have planted wheat in late November or early December, making the crop more vulnerable to damage from late-season heat, called terminal heat, when it exceeds 35 degree Celsius. CSISA research shows that productivity progressively declines from more than 5 to less than 2.5 tons per hectare when sowing is delayed from the first half of November to the last half of December.
In 2009, CSISA, through the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, launched a campaign in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh to promote early wheat sowing, between 1 and 15 November, to help combat the negative effects of terminal heat. Early wheat sowing, in combination with zero tillage (ZT), can increase yields as the crop is more likely to avoid damaging heat during the grain-filling stage. Early sowing also allows farmers to adopt high-yielding, long-duration wheat varieties, which can further improve productivity.
Zero tillage is the way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage, thus saving irrigation water, increasing organic matter retention and nutrient cycling and suppressing weeds. In the heat- and stress-prone eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains, early sowing of wheat and ZT are important adaptations for coping with the present and projected climate extremes.