Blog post by Dr Veera Jayalakshmi, Principal Scientist (Chickpea Breeding), Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University
Chickpea is one of the major pulses cultivated in India. It is widely consumed across all regions in India, attributing to a per capita consumption of about 5.03 kg/capita/year which is higher than any other region (FAO STAT, 2006). In recent years, India has witnessed a striking phenomenon with respect to spread of chickpea area. Since 1964-65, the production of chickpea has declined by 4.0 million ha in Northern India, the traditional chickpea growing area. While it increased by 4.0 million ha in the central and southern states. Cultivation area for chickpea in the southern states including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh increased along with the yield. The linear trend line computed for productivity for the period, 1950-51 to 2010-11, indicated that the productivity increased by about 5 kg per year. However, the productivity enhancement is more significant only during the last decade than in earlier periods.
Chickpea area in India reached 9.51 million ha in 2012-13 and production surged to 8.83 million tons, with the productivity touching an all-time high of 929 kg/ha. Adoption of short duration, high-yielding varieties, which can escape terminal drought coupled with matching production and protection technologies have contributed to the success of chickpea cultivation in southern and central states of India. Another important factor which revolutionized chickpea cultivation is mechanization of farm operations. Farmers adopted farm mechanization and custom hiring of farm machines and implements to cultivate chickpea.
Mechanization of chickpea harvesting is desired by the farmers for saving cost and time. The existing popular chickpea varieties grown in India have inadequate height and semi-spreading growth habit and, thus, these are not suitable for combine harvesting. Some farmers tried to use the multi-crop combine harvesters (used for wheat, paddy, sunflower, etc) that were readily available in the market and it resulted in a seed loss of 200 – 300 kg per ha which amounts to a loss of Rs. 8000 to 13,000 per ha (USD 123 to 200 per ha). Hence, farmers are manually harvesting and threshing with threshers or combine harvesters.
The traditional varieties of chickpea have semi-spreading growth habit and height of lower pods about 15-20 cm from the ground and therefore these are not suitable for mechanical harvesting. Chickpea genotypes with upright and tall growth habit having fruiting zone starting at about 30 cm from the ground are considered suitable for combine harvesting and need to be developed through intensive breeding programs.
Efforts were initiated to breed chickpea varieties suitable for combine harvest in collaborating breeding programs of ICRISAT and Indian NARS. Several promising breeding lines were developed. NBeG 47, a desi chickpea line with semi-erect growth habit was found promising and suitable for mechanical harvesting and has been released for cultivation in Andhra Pradesh. This was derived from a cross between ICCV 2 X PDG 84-16, a semi-erect genotype, bearing all above 28- 32 cm from the soil. The plant grows to height of 55-65 cm in South Indian conditions and hence like paddy or wheat, it is amenable to mechanical harvesting with existing combiners in the market. Being a semi-erect plant type with pod bearing nodes towards upper portions of the branches, responded well to high plant population. A plant population of 4.44 lakhs per ha with a spacing of 30 cm x 7.5 cm or 22.5 cm x 10 cm recorded significantly higher seed yield than the normal spacing of 30 cm x 10 cm.
A comparison of harvesting and threshing operation of this variety with existing cultivars of the tract indicated a net saving of Rs. 2200 per ha (USD 33.5 per ha) in addition to ease of operation i.e., 0.35 ha per hour can be easily covered with this variety whereas in manual method, harvesting with five persons can cover only 0.2 ha. The pod losses during harvesting and threshing are within permissible range (17-20 kg/ha) and are on par with manual method (15-20 kg/ha) with additional advantage of ease of operation. Farmers who have witnessed harvesting of this variety with combine harvesters expressed that pod losses in this variety are very minimal and felt that this variety is suitable for mechanical harvesting and is beneficial to the chickpea growing farmers.
Machine harvesting of chickpea will reduce production cost and reduce the chances of damage to the crop due to rains, winds, etc. that may occur during the additional period required in manual harvesting. This will become more attractive and remunerating to farmers. Thus, machine harvestable chickpea varieties may contribute to enhancing chickpea area and production in the country, which is very much needed for reaching country’s goal of self-sufficiency in pulse production.
About the Author
Dr Veera Jayalakshmi is a plant breeder by training and currently working as Principal Scientist (Chickpea Breeding) at Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University – Regional Agricultural Research Station, Nandyal, Andhra Pradesh, India. She has over 10 years of experience in chickpea breeding. She has worked very closely with ICRISAT in several projects on chickpea, including the Tropical Legumes II project funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and three projects (extra-large kabuli chickpea, heat tolerance, herbicide tolerance and suitability to machine harvesting) funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. She has developed three chickpea cultivars (NBeG 3, NBeG 47 and NBeG 119) including the first machine harvestable chickpea variety (NBeG 47) for Andhra Pradesh. She has received Mandava Foundation Award in 2011 and Dr Nagaraja Rao Gold Medal in 2015 for her outstanding contribution in chickpea research. She is also recipient of UGC Research Award for 2016-18.