Sturdy variety shores up Indias wheat output

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 9 2013, 19:43pm hrs
The decline in wheat production due to the unusually high temperatures and rains during March and April this year could have been much sharper if it was not for large-scale adoption of a temperature-tolerant variety by farmers in the key growing areas of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

Although the ministry of agriculture has not revised wheat production estimates for 2012-13 from 93.62 million tonne (mt), agricultural scientists agree that there is a 10-15% decline in output because of rains in March and unusually high temperatures in April, which affected flowering.

However, large-scale cultivation of the temperature-resistant HD 2967 variety, developed by Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), minimised the fall in wheat output.

Since 2011, when we introduced the variety, the adoption by farmers has been encouraging, KV Prabhu, head, division of genetics, IARI, a premier institute under the agriculture ministry, told FE. According to Prabhu, the adoption rate of the HD 2967 variety has been around 50% this year in northern states.

The HD-2967 variety has given yield up to 21.4 quintal per acre against 20 quintal/acre for other varieties.

Next year, we expect 70% farmers to adopt the variety as fluctuations in temperature during the flowering season become a regular trend in key growing areas, he said. The variety not only deals with higher temperatures prior to harvesting, but also takes care of the yellow rust disease.

Indu Sharma, director of Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), said that thanks to some heat-resistant varieties, such as PB 343, PB 550 and HD 2967, developed by IARI, DWR and Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), farmers have been able to sustain production despite the fluctuations in temperature witnessed during the last few years.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently pegged India's wheat production at 87 mt this year, which is 7% lower than the government's latest estimate of 93.62 mt. The rains and high humidity also led to a higher incidence of rust in north India and lodging in the early harvested wheat varieties," the USDA said.

IARI has been experimenting with various wheat varieties from an estimated 28,000 wheat genes available with National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR).

In a first-of-its-kind experiment to identify specific traits from the country's huge genetic resources, NBPGR has characterised more than 5000 varieties of wheat germplasms for development of better seed varieties that can withstand climate change.

Top agricultural scientists associated with the charasterisation drive say that the purpose was to provide genetic variability, which helps in quality seed development.