Early Sowing of Wheat Climate Resilient Practices Gain Farmers' Confidence

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.

CSISA increased adoption of early sowing and ZT through sharing relevant data with policy makers, demonstrating the benefits in farmers’ fields, training service providers in ZT technology and educating extension staff, input dealers and distributors. Most importantly, CSISA joined the Bihar Department of Agriculture’s seasonal planning meetings, sharing relevant research findings and providing evidence of the benefits of early sowing and ZT. Influenced by CSISA’s findings, in 2013 the Bihar Department of Agriculture modified its highly influential advisory to farmers, officially recommending that farmers sow wheat before November 15.

CSISA surveys show that 340,000 farmers in Bihar and 280,000 farmers in eastern Uttar Pradesh now practice timely sowing of wheat.

Impact in numbers

More than 120,000 hectares of wheat now benefit from timely planting across Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh hub districts due to the combined efforts of CSISA and the state agriculture departments.

Early sowing of wheat resulted in a grain harvest of nearly 1.5 times the Indian average yield of 3 tons per hectare. Under best conditions, early sowing has given a grain harvest of up to 7.3 tons per hectare.

Research results

CSISA’s research demonstrates that by combining crop diversification with conservation agriculture and precision resource management, crop yields and land productivity can increase by 11 percent, irrigation requirement can decrease by 71 percent and overall profitability can increase by 32 percent.

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Written and edited by: Anuradha Dhar, Ashwamegh Banerjee and Cynthia Mathys. Photo credits: Ashwamegh Banerjee, Srikanth Kolari, Vinaynath Reddy, Satish Kumar, Suryakanta Khandai and Wasim Iftikar. Copyright © the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), 2015. All rights reserved. Any opinions, boundaries and names stated herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily representative of or endorsed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) or its partner organizations. Fair use of this material is encouraged. Proper citation is requested.

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