Saving on a level field

Farmers of Punjab, a state reeling under over-exploitation of groundwater for paddy, have started to warm up the technology of levelling their fields, a process that saves around 30 per cent on water required during irrigation.

Punjab is believed to have more laser levellers than any other state has, the count rising year by year, though much of the state's farmland remains to be covered. From one machine in 2005, the number rose to eight in 2006, 150 in 2007, 900 in 2008, 2,000 in 2009 and around 5,000 currently, owned both privately and by state cooperative societies that provide these to farmers for custom hiring.

The Central Ground Water Board this year prohibited 18 of Punjab's 137 from drilling new bores for drawing underground water; 92 of the blocks are listed as "dark zones" due to over-exploitation.

In uneven fields, around 25 to 30 per cent water is wasted because of improper distribution, experts say, hence the importance of levellers. As per estimates, of the total 42 lakh hectares of agriculture land (excluding horticulture) in Punjab, 10 lakh hectares has been laser-levelled.

"A large number of cooperative societies have been purchasing levellers and this has worked to the benefit of farmers," says Dr D R Kataria, joint director, farm machinery. "For small and medium farmers, buying a laser leveller is not feasible as it costs around Rs 3.50 to 4 lakh."

"A leveller is attached to a tractor that costs around Rs 7 to 8 lakh," said Inderaj Singh Bains, chief executive officer-cum-vigilance officer of Jalandhar Central Cooperative Bank. "From a piece of land that has been laser-levelled once, a farmer can get six crops. Levelling is needed once every three years."

On an average, the difference of elevation between parts of a field can vary between 8 and 25 cm; levelling can restrict it to 5 mm, says Dr Naresh Gulati, deputy director, Agriculture Technology Development Agency.

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