Different Truths serializes JAMMAI that focuses on the development in India. An initiative of the present government, it’s an ambitious project. We hope that the blueprint on paper matches the political will of the Modi government. The fifth part of the six-part article deals with Agro Card. Here’s a report from Anirban.
The fifth and penultimate part of the JAMMAI series is the Agro Card or Soil Health Card. Here’s a detailed analysis.
Soil test based nutrient management has emerged as a key issue in efforts to increase agricultural productivity and production since optimal use of nutrients. Based on soil analysis it may improve crop productivity and minimise wastage of these nutrients, thus reducing the impact on environment leading to effective and optimal production. Deficiencies of primary, secondary and micronutrients have been observed in intensive cultivated areas.
Agro Card is the soil health card that is created for a farmer for his crops and rotation policies, including information on his tilling land on crop type and soil type. This soil card has an index and data that are in sync with the main database, which helps in recognising lands specific to certain crops, like cash crops and cereal crops. It also uses this data for official planning and roll-out!
Proper maintenance of the soil health means the capacity of the soil to ensure proper physical, chemical and biological activities for sustaining higher crop productivity. A fertile soil would use proper release of water and supplements, promote and sustain root growth, maintain soil biotic habitat, respond to management and resist degradation.
A Soil Health Card is also used to assess the current status of soil health and, when used over time, to determine changes in soil health that are affected by land management. A Soil Health Card displays soil health indicators and associated descriptive terms. The indicators are typically based on farmers’ practical experience and knowledge of local natural resources. The card lists soil health indicators that can be assessed without the aid of technical or laboratory equipment.
Seeking to improve the agricultural growth, the Soil Card or the Soil Health Card” will help in making real-time decisions in farming to boost productivity. A computer system will be developed, allowing the local agricultural science centres to keep details of the soil health cards. Soil samples can be collected even from small farms from remote villages. The system in information systems will eventually download the details using the unique code of soil sample. In this light, any change of ownership of a particular farm land will not create any problem in getting such cards for updated.
As collecting data for the soil card is a humungous exercise, students of agricultural universities may use their time judiciously. There might be a possibility of linking the final degree of the agricultural students with their work in the fields. Once the basic irrigation and facility and basic counselling through the cards are in place, the farmer can pen down productivity and cut down costs.
Attributes of the Soil Card
The soil card has this standard conservation practice, and will address this following attributes:
- Conservation Crop Rotation
- Residue and Tillage Management
- Cover Crop
- Nutrient Management
Under conservation of crop rotation, growing crops in a planned sequence on the same field, and can have the purpose to plan and apply practice to support one of the following-
- Reduce rill and inter-rill erosion and wind erosion
- Improve soil quality
- Manage balance of plant nutrients
- Supply nitrogen through biological nitrogen fixation to reduce energy use
- Conserve water
- Manage saline seeps
- Manage plant pests (weeds, insects, and diseases)
- Provide feed for domestic livestock
- Provide annual crops for bio-energy feedstock
- Provide food and cover for wildlife, including pollinator forage, cover, and nesting
This practice of residue and till-management allows for in-row tillage during the planting operation and use of equipment for closing the seed row or furrow. Full- width tillage is not allowed. The practice is used to support one or more of the following:
Reduce sheet, rill, and wind erosion
- Reduce tillage-induced particulate emissions
- Maintain or increase soil quality and organic matter content
- Reduce energy use
- Increase efficiency of water use and precipitation storage
- Provide food and escape cover for wildlife
Under the cover crop, we have the following things that may be addressed:
- Reduce erosion from wind and water
- Increase soil organic matter content
- Capture and recycle or redistribute nutrients in the soil profile
- Promote biological nitrogen fixation
- Increase biodiversity
- Suppress weeds
- Provide supplemental forage
- Manage soil moisture
- Reduce particulate emissions into the atmosphere
- Minimise or reduce soil compaction
Under mulching, the following attributes can be taken care of:
- Conserve soil moisture
- Reduce energy use associated with irrigation
- Control erosion
- Facilitate the establishment of plant cover
- Improve soil health
- Reduce airborne particulates
Under nutrient management, we have the following attributes:
- Budget, supply, and conserve nutrients for plant production
- Minimise agricultural nonpoint source pollution of surface water and groundwater resources
- Properly use manure or organic by-products as a source of plant nutrients
- Protect air quality by reducing odour, nitrogen emission (ammonia and oxides of nitrogen), and formation of atmospheric particulates
- Maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil
A few Best-practices for Soil Health Testing
Major features of soil testing status including successes and challenges are highlighted. Some of the best practices are:
- Many states have taken the task of preparing the soil fertility maps starting from preparing the state level maps down to districts, block and even village.
- Campaign mode of implementation of soil testing program when successful, will focus on increasing the yield.
- Private agencies can enlist for soil testing purpose, while bodies like Land Development Corporation, Sugar Co-Operatives and Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees can issue soil health to farmers.
- Using computerised soil test reports and communication of these reports with appropriate fertilizer use recommendation online, as this helps in reducing the time-lag between soil analysis and results.
- Acidic soils like in Orissa can effectively use paper mill sludge for increasing yields
- States can fix the village wise number of samples to be collected which can happen with a fixed number of samples with a target of 100 samples/ village
Some of the constraints are:
- There is lack of proper manpower in soil testing laboratories, especially in Karnataka and Punjab. Recruitment of proper team is necessary.
- Training of the manpower for the purposes involving contractual hiring in PPP mode has shortage.
- Space is a constraint for laboratory and their facilities.
Integrated pest management, system of rice intensification, weather based information, organic farming, minimum support price, maximum retail price of fertilizers, crop-wise facts and FAQs and answer to queries posed by the farmers, key contacts in agriculture department, program schedule of radio and TV, along with misbranded pesticides and current issues, video clips of farmer stories related to soil health card can be a part of this soil card exercise.
An application may be developed using soil test results to be computerized in the system. Farmer’s details, soil sample details, result of soil analysis such as soil type, Ph, EC, organic carbon, available NPK, crop-wise recommendation of nutrients use, and also soil amendments in case of any problem in the soils can be maintained in the database. Farmers can download the sol health card using the unique number allotted to each sample. Facility is also provided to send the soil test based fertilizers recommendation through SMS to farmers on mobile phones. The farmers can visit a CAC or common service centre near his village, using his “unique code” having a 15-digit code. The first six characters are numbers corresponding to the year. The next three characters represent the district code. For example, GNT represents the Guntur district. The next two characters, after the district code, represent the mandal codes. The last four characters are numbers starting from 0001 to 9999.
The state departments of agriculture had painted on the walls the soil fertilizer index maps with fertilizer recommendation for major crops in each village so the farmers can apply the fertilizer according to the soil map.
The Andhra Pradesh government has divided the state into 240 farming zones taking into account soil type, topography, rainfall, major crops in an area and other agro-ecological parameters. As farming type and situation vary from district to district; soil cards are important. A total of 3,600 samples will be collected each year from the 240 farming situations. Change in soil fertility will be monitored and fertilizer use and other programs are organized. A program can be identified and scaled up to improve cultivars. Under this program, training of agricultural officers will be arranged on soil sampling, analysis of micro-nutrients, and in preparation of GIS soiled maps. The change in fertility status can also be maintained and monitored.
A few Reports in Soil Card Smapling
This report consists of samples collected vs. samples tested.
This report consists of an aggregate of crop name, soil name, and variety for a particular geography.
Experts talk about the importance of genetic food cultivation. The ministry of Agriculture maintains the emphasis to develop more and more pulses and green vegetables, as this can bring more productivity to the land. The father of Green Revolution, M S Swaminathan, and the crop rotation is a must. The awareness of soil health conditions would only make these operations easier and more oriented to results. There is a definite need to promote alternate crops like pulses, sunflower, bajra, fodder or vegetables.
The Soil Health card mechanism or concept helps in an evolutionary and salutary effect in country’s agricultural scheme. The government can help farmers adopt crop diversification. Farmers would understand the fertility factor of the land better, and can be taken into consultation while issuing the soil cards. The most important success stands on one single focal point- that is the correct data for sampling, testing, and distribution of soil health cards. Taking a holistic view on these, the central government has thus rightly taken measures like launching of a Soil Health Card portal.
In order to improve quality of soil and ultimately for better nutrient values and higher yields, experts say while at present, general fertilizer recommendations are followed by farmers for primary nutrients, the secondary and micro nutrients are often overlooked. “We have often come across deficiency of nutrients like Sulphur, Zinc and Boron. This has become a limiting factor in increasing food productivity. The Soil Health Card scheme will address these,” says Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh.
Hence, we may say that the Soil Health Card can produce the best results with a soil map and managing and monitoring the change in the soil pattern and type.
- Report on “Compendium of Soil Health” by Ministry of Agriculture, India
“Soil Health Literature Summary” by USDA
Press Information Bureau, India
Pix from Net
Anirban Kar is a technology and business consultant, who has earned his education degree in two continents, the USA and from India. His work started from 2003 in TCS, and comprised
of various clients ranging across geographies. His area of interest is business modeling,
enterprise architecture and investment analysis.