Don’t go by averages,” says Surinder Singh Banga, professor emeritus at the department of plant breeding and genetics, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU). Banga is a mustard breeder. He says his latest variety, GSC-7 (Gobisarson Canola-7) is a hit with Punjab farmers. It neatly combines high quality with high yield—2.2 tonnes per hectare (t/ha), when grown under normal weather conditions with good agronomic practices.
Banga is responding to a question on whether mustard can make a big dent in the area under wheat—which requires more irrigation and inputs—in Punjab. India has a surplus of wheat while it imports edible oil in large quantities. Madhya Pradesh’s Sharbati wheat is preferred to Punjab’s. Banga says about 20,000 hectares in Punjab is under canola-quality rapeseed-mustard. For it to catch on, farmers must be assured of procurement at minimum support prices (MSP), like wheat.
Gobisarson is rapeseed or Brassica napus. Mustard is Brassica juncea. The national average yield of mustard is about 1.2 t/ha. Mustard is high in erucic acid—48-50%. It should be less than 2% for rapeseed-mustard oil to qualify as canola quality. Erucic acid gives mustard its pungency, a quality that is prized in northern and eastern India but off-putting for those in the west and south. Erucic acid and oleic acid levels are inversely related. When one is lowered, the other increases. GSC-7 is healthy heart oil, like olive oil, asserts Banga. Its oleic and linoleic acid content is 67-68% and the share of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is quite high. “Farmers are lapping it up”, since it was released for cultivation in 2014.
Canada introduced high oleic canola in 1994. The name distinguishes it from traditional rapeseed. Banga started work on developing canola-quality rapeseed-mustard in 1996, though he joined PAU in 1984. He needed instruments to measure fatty acids and glucosinolates (an anti-nutrient in mustard oil which makes it distasteful to cattle. In canola, glucosinolates are less than 30 micromoles per gram of defatted meal. In mustard they, are 100 micromoles). GSC-5 was the first indigenous canola. It was released in 2004. But its yield did not measure up. GSC-6, released in 2008, made up for that inadequacy. GSC-7 was released in 2014.
Gurpreet Singh, 40, of Batala, finds GSC-7 “farmer friendly” because of its high yield. An MCom graduate, he was branch manager of a private insurance company in Tarn Tarn and Amritsar for five years before stress and long working hours persuaded him towards agriculture in 2011.
He has taken some amount of land from wheat to grow GSC-7 and P6 (Ethiopian mustard or karan rai) on 15 acres. The oilseed crop is low in maintenance, he says, and requires fewer inputs than wheat. (Deepak Pental, a geneticist and mustard breeder at Delhi University disagrees. He says mustard is susceptible to many diseases that cannot be easily controlled with sprays). And, because it matures by mid-March, Singh can plant a third, short-duration crop of moong or green gram. But he has a grouse. Against the MSP of Rs 4,000 a quintal last season, he got Rs 3,200.
For Harpal Singh of village Sheikh Daulat near Jagraon town in Ludhiana district, mustard is a more profitable crop. He gets 19 quintals of wheat per acre, but about 9.75 quintals of mustard. He has grown both GSC-7 and Raya Ludhiana Canola-3 (a canola-quality mustard variety) on about a sixth of his owned and leased holding of 30 acres. At last season’s MSP, Singh would have earned nearly Rs 33,000 per acre from wheat. From mustard he would have made Rs 31,000 an acre at the market price of Rs 3,200 a quintal. Banga says PAU’s official estimates of the cost of cultivating wheat and mustard are Rs 19,000 and Rs 12,000 per acre respectively. This includes rent of owned land and imputed cost of family labour. But Singh is enterprising. He sells oil instead of mustard seed for Rs 120 a kg. That raises his earnings by about Rs 9,000 per acre. He sells the crop residue to brick kilns. Since he cold presses the oil, the oilcake has rich traces of oil which improves milk yield. And since it is canola quality, cattle do not have an aversion to it.
Harwinder Singh, 50, of Teg Seed Farm at Bhadalwa in Sangrur district also has a thriving business in artisanal canola oil. The pre-release trials of GSC-7 happened on his farm. He was impressed with the yield which was better than that of a mustard hybrid sold by a private seed company. He produces about 160 quintals from 20 acres, or about two tonnes per hectare. He intercrops mustard with sugarcane. The two have a sibling relationship, he says. Mustard loves the cold and protects the cane crop, when nascent, from frost. The wider plant spacing explains his relatively lower yield. Singh has his own oil label, crafted for him by the staff of PAU. He is willing to buy canola-quality mustard from neighbours provided demand for oil keeps pace.
Ravinder Pal Singh Kohli says he got farmers to grow PAU’s canola quality rapeseed between 2008 and 2010 in the Gurdaspur (Punjab) and Sriganganagar (Rajasthan) areas. He found its omega-3 fatty acid levels were lower than that of canola. (Virender Sardana, senior agronomist at PAU says there is no difference). Kohli is director of Jivo Wellness, which sells a popular brand of packaged canola.
He and two other directors are devotees of Iqbal Singh, who is the leader of a Sikh sect based at Baru Sahib in Himachal’s Sirmour district (and a former director of agriculture at Himachal University). The sect runs the Kaglidhar Trust, which provides education to girl children in the region and has two private universities. A sizeable share of the profit of Jivo Wellness is shared with the trust.
S S Pangli, who heads the Borlaug Farmers’ Association for South Asia at Ludhiana, says its 600 members are willing to partially shift from wheat to canola. He owns 80 acres in Ludhiana and grows mustard on 10 acres. “We are trying to replace 10,000 hectares of wheat in Moga, Ludhiana, Sangrur and Ferozepur with canola-quality mustard”, he says. Farmers, he says, are willing to make the switch if they get Rs 100-110 per kg of canola oil. The earnings from oil cake are a bonus for them.
The global prices of canola do not favour domestic producers despite the high import duty of 50%. The landed cost of rapeseed oil (which is almost all canola) at Mumbai at the end of August was $735 a tonne. That is Rs 86 a kg including import duty. At Rs 3,200 a quintal of domestic rapeseed, a price farmers find unprofitable, the oil will cost at least `Rs 90 a kg. (Branded imported canola oil retails for Rs 150 a litre, a steep discount to the marked price).
Rapeseed is grown in a small area. It requires moisture and chilly weather. It is also susceptible to alternaria blight, a leaf disease. PK Rai, director of the Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research, Bharatpur, says rapeseed cannot grow extensively in India. The solution is to develop mustard with good quality characteristics and bring a large chunk of the 15 lakh hectares of paddies that remain fallow after rice is harvested in eastern India under high-yielding mustard.
Author blogs on smartindianagriculture.com