Precision land leveling To save water in south asia

Farmers on over 1.5 million hectares (ha) in South Asia’s vast rice-wheat cropping zones are using a high-tech approach to level their farmland, allowing them to save 15-30 percent irrigation water and benefit from up to 6 percent higher yields for rice, wheat and other crops, over farmers who work traditionally-plowed fields.

The recent study “Impacts of Laser Land Leveling in Rice-Wheat Systems of the North–western Indo-Gangetic Plains of India” concluded that if 50 percent of the area under the rice-wheat system in Haryana and Punjab States were precision leveled, this would add 0.7 million tons of rice and nearly 1 million tons of wheat to harvests each year, representing an annual market value of US $385 million, with significant savings in irrigation water.

“In northwestern India, water and electricity for irrigation are highly-subsidized,” said M.L. Jat, CIMMYTsenior cropping systems agronomist. “State governments must incentivize sustainable practices and technologies to stop groundwater depletion.”

"I save 30 percent in diesel costs for irrigation, thanks to precision leveling" - Baljit Singh, Kanoi Village, Punjab

During 1967-79, wheat production tripled in India, due in part to the widespread adoption of high-yielding varieties and fertilizer but supported as well by a huge expansion in irrigated area and subsidized electricity for irrigation pumps. By 2008, 90 percent of India’s total fresh groundwater use was for agricultural, and major aquifers in the North were falling as much as a meter every three years.

“From just 37 precision levelers during the Rice-Wheat Consortium days (1990s-early 2000s), there are now approximately 25,000 machines available,” said Jat. According to Jat, the success of precision levelers in Punjab Province is due largely to the “localization of manufacturing; thanks to the involvement of local shops, the cost of a precision leveler has dropped one third, from more than US $12,000 to about $4,600.”

Precision levelers are machines equipped with laser-guided drag buckets to level fields so water flows evenly into soil, rather than running off or collecting in uneven land. This allows much more efficient water use and saves energy through reduced irrigation pumping, compared to traditional land leveling which uses animal-powered scrapers and boards or tractors. It also facilitates uniformity in seed placement and reduces the loss of fertilizer from runoff, raising yields.

First used in Pakistan, precision leveling was studied and promoted region-wide through joint work by CIMMYT, IRRI, and national research programs during 1994-2008. Since 2011, CIMMYT in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has studied and promoted laser land leveling in the western Indo-Gangetic Plains, in conjunction with research on conservation agriculture (CA) practices such as smart fertilizer application, zero tillage, direct seeded rice and residue management.

The business of leveling

Jagdeep Singh from Kanoi village in Punjab’s Sangrur district has been providing tractor services to local farmers since 1998.

He was introduced to precision leveling by Punjab Agricultural University in 2008. “I used the machine to level 4 hectares of my land and saved 25-30 percent of my water. This was so encouraging that I bought my own machine the very next year,” said Singh.

In 2009, Singh leveled approximately 200 ha of land for nearly 200 farmers across 17 villages. “Initially, farmers used to get just one or two acres leveled to see if it helps. But now, most are getting 4 to 6 hectares leveled at a time,” said Singh. In light of the high demand, Singh purchased a second machine in 2013 and the following year leveled over 400 ha, charging US $16 per hour for his services.

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Editors-in-chief Geneviève Renard, Michael Listman Creative Director/design Clyde R. Beaver III Slate Design Lead Sam Storr Graphics Eliot Sanchez, Marcelo Ortiz, Bosen Zhou Principal writing/editing Michael Listman, Geneviève Renard, Julie Mollins, Sam Storr, Jennifer Johnson, Katherine Lutz, Katelyn Roett, Ashwamegh Banerjee. Contributors Tripti Agarwal, Lone Badstue, Frédéric Baudron, José Juan Caballero, Ma. Concepion Castro, Vijay Chaikam, Uran Chung, Ricardo Curiel, Anuradha Dhar, K.C. Dilli, Nirmal Govindan, Muhammad Imtiaz, Moti Jaleta, M.L. Jat, Arun Joshi, Promil Kapoor, Petr Kosina, Mauricio Malpica Aranda, Esther Mendoza Ramos, Hae Koo, Surabhi Mittal, Alexey Morgounov, Wandera Ojanji, Natalia Palacios, Roberto Javier Peña, Eloise Phipps, S.P. Poonia, Yahya Rauf, Matthew Reynolds, Rajiv Sharma, Miriam Shindler, Florence Sipalla, Sam Storr, Adefris Teklewold, Kindie Tesfaye, Brenda Wawa, Martha Willcox, Wren Media , Patrick Yadav, P.H. Zaidi, Bosen Zhou. Photographers Cover: CIMMYT Archives. Inside this issue: Ashwamegh Banerjee, Frédéric Baudron, Clyde Beaver, Iván Vázquez Cruz, Xochiquetzal Fonseca, ML Jat, Petr Kosina, Peter Lowe, Ranak Martin, Allen McHugh, Garry Rosewarne, Alfredo Saénz, Sam Storr, Anne Wangalachi, Patrick Wall, Martha Willcox and CIMMYT archives.

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