Soil testing? Haven't heard of it, rue farmers
With few labs, Soil Health Card scheme yet to click; Overuse of urea harming soil fertility
By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, Sept 13: Subhas Malakar, a farmer from a village near Bijoygar, has been tilling his field for more than two decades. His methods are thoroughly orthodox and traditiol. Like many other farmers in the State, he too has not heard of soil testing laboratories.
"It is only when you told me that I came to know there is such a thing," he exclaimed, talking to our reporter. "If there is such a scheme, the government needs to popularize it. I am sure it will be beneficial."
Sixty years after the first soil testing service began in the country, many farmers in the State still lack awareness about the facility. This apart, the number of soil testing laboratories in the State is not adequate.
There are only eight permanent laboratories - in Lakhimpur, Tezpur, Guwahati, Jorhat, Diphu, Haflong, Silchar and Kokrajhar. Four mobile laboratories also operate in Tezpur, Guwahati, Jorhat and Diphu.
The scant number of facilities has failed to reach out to a good chunk of the farming community who are still using traditiol methods for cultivation.
"This is one scheme you have to take to the doorsteps of the farmers. No farmer will travel 30/40 km to get their soil tested. Facilities need to be created in every block," said an agriculture expert.
Farmers tend to overuse urea as it is cheaper and highly subsidized, compared to other macronutrients such as phosphorous and potassium fertilizers, prices of which are not regulated. For instance, on average, farmers apply double the amount of urea recommended for their fields.
The result is a declining response of crops to fertilizer use; the amount of foodgrain produced per kg of fertilizer applied, declined from around 13kg in the 1970s to less than 4kg by 2010, according to data from the Fertilizer ministry
Farmers in the State swear by urea, not knowing that the soil may require more phosphorous or micronutrients like zinc, sulphur and boron.
The Soil Health Card scheme is the best way to achieve balanced fertility of soil, but the scheme is yet to pick up. The card, issued after the soil is tested in the laboratory, will list the nutrients in the soil alongside physical parameters (like pH for measuring acidity or alkalinity) and will have an advisory on the correct fertilizer dose that will give every farmer the optimum yield. The card will have to be renewed every three years to keep a tab on changing nutrient levels in the soil.