Mechanisation of agriculture is gaining momentum in Mandya district owing to acute labour shortage, continuous drought, dry waterways and lakes, Cauvery water crisis, urbanisation and steep increase in labourers’ wages.

The district is considered as the ‘rice bowl of Karnataka’ as farmers cultivate various varieties of paddy crops on around 79,000 hectares in all seven taluks. Still, the disenchantment is growing among farmers because of acute shortage of labourers, increasing wages, and skyrocketing prices of fertilizers and pesticides.

Nonetheless, some farmers who own small holdings across the district are either investing on machinery or hiring equipment to meet their requirements.

Drought

The Agriculture and Horticulture Departments have observed that the farmers are more receptive in recent days to agricultural mechanisation to overcome the labour shortage problem.

Scientists and plant pathologists at the Zonal Agricultural Research Station (V.C. Farm), Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS-Bangalore) and the Department of Agriculture have been stressing the need for farm mechanisation to overcome the shortage of labour in Mandya. This has prompted the farmers to opt for mechanised cultivation in the district.

The V.C. Farm has also organised several demonstrations and technical sessions in rain-fed areas to prompt farmers to adopt the latest technologies in agricultural activities.

Unavailability of skilled labour and steep increase in wages and other expenses are prompting farmers to involve in mechanised cultivation, says H.M. Atheek-ur-Rehaman, Subject Matter Specialist (Agronomy) at the VC Farm.

Cultivation

The total cultivation area in the district is 2,48,825 hectares. Of them, the farmers cultivate sugarcane in 30,630 hectares, paddy in 79,892 hectares, and ragi in 85,467 hectares. The growers cultivate toor dal, jowar, maize, chilly, black gram, green gram, sesame, red gram, other pulses and oil seeds in the rest of the areas in the district. While various waterways irrigate 1,16,901 hectares, farmers depend on rain water to take up agricultural activities in the rest of the land.

Visvesvaraya canal, Chikka Devaraya canal, Virija canal, Bangara Doddi canal, Right Bank Low Level canal (RBLL), Left Bank Low Level canal (LBLL), Ramaswamy canal, Raja Parameshwari canal, and Madhava Rao canal are the major waterways in Mandya.

The total length of the canals and their distributaries that flow in the district is around 1,500 km.

A total of 88,000 hectares is being irrigated by Krishna Rajasagar (KRS) reservoir and around 16,000 hectares by Hemavathi reservoir. The farmers also pump water from five rivers — Cauvery, Lokapavani, Veera Vaishnavi, Shimsha and Hemavathi — that flow in the district.

The Cauvery water crisis and drought had badly hit the agriculture sector in the district last year. The KRS near Srirangapatna had reached the ‘Dead Storage’ level of 74 ft. against its full-reservoir level (FRL) of 124.80 ft. The Irrigation Department had stopped discharging water to all canals for nearly eight months in the last two years. Also, all seven taluks — Mandya, Malavalli, Nagamangala, K.R. Pet, Srirangapatna, Pandavapura and Maddur — in the district had been declared as drought affected last year because of scanty rainfall. Various crops estimated at Rs. 268 crore had been lost due to the failed monsoon in 2012-13.

Migration

The drought had prompted the farmers to move from agriculture to non-farm sectors. Also, as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme works has been enticing labourers, the shortage of manpower on agricultural fields has escalated in the district, prompting the farmers to opt for machines.

The trend of using machines and other agricultural equipment is increasing, observes M.K. Prasanna Kumar, Plant Pathologist (Rice Section) at VC Farm.

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M.T. SHIVA KUMAR

Farm mechanisation gets a boost as labour shortage hits Mandya

The VC Farm has organised technical sessions in rain-fed areas