Soil Health Card : A Step Towards Better Agriculture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched ambitious ‘Soil Health Card’ (SHC) scheme in Suratgarh town in Rajasthan recently. Target of this scheme is to provide Soil health Card to about 14 crore farmers in next 3 years. Soil Health Card will help famers better understand the use of nutrients, fertilizers and improve productivity of soil.

The card will help in identifying the type of fertilizer required for the soil and the crops and thus increase productivity of the land and individual farmer. Another concern which is addressed by SHC is imbalanced use of fertilisers, low addition of organic matter and non-replacement of depleted micro and secondary nutrients over the years.

What is Soil Health Card (SHC): The card will carry crop wise recommendations of nutrients/fertilizers required for farms, making it possible for farmers to improve productivity by using appropriate inputs. A Soil Health Card is 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 (physical, chemical and biological) and associated descriptive terms.

The indicators are typically based on farmers’ practical experience and knowledge of local natural resources. These experience can be his crop cycle, quantity of fertilizers used or production output of previous years. The card lists soil health indicators that can be assessed without the aid of technical or laboratory equipment. Soil health needs to be assessed at regular intervals so as to ensure that farmers apply the required nutrients while taking advantages of the nutrients already present in the soil.

Who will provide SHC: Central Government will provide assistance to State Governments for setting up Soil Testing Laboratories for issuing Soil Health Cards to farmers. Many State Governments have adopted innovative practices like involvement of agricultural students, NGOs and private sector in soil testing, determining average soil health of villages, etc., to issue Soil Health Cards.

How Much will it Cost: A similar scheme, the National Project for Management of Soil Health and Fertility, was launched during 2008-09 by the previous United Progressive Alliance government. While urea consumption increased from 59% to 66% of total consumption in 2012-13 over 2010-11, per hectare consumption of fertilizer declined from 140 kg to 128 kg over the same period, noted the Economic Survey of 2014. Current trends in farm output reveal that the marginal productivity of soil in relation to the application of fertilizers is declining.

The current scheme was announced in the first budget presented by finance minister Arun Jaitley in July last year. The budget allotted Rs.100 crore for issuing cards and an additional Rs.56 crore to set up 100 mobile soil testing laboratories across the country. Between May and December 2014, the agriculture ministry released Rs.86 crore for the soil health card scheme. In comparison, between 2007-08 and April 2014, the ministry had spent Rs.112 crore on the scheme. The flagship scheme of the ministry has been sanctioned Rs.568 crore for the next three years.

Where will it be Implemented: Though quite a few states including Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Haryana are successfully distributing such cards, Centre plans to make it a pan India effort. The scheme will be implemented in all states to promote soil testing services, issue of soil health cards and development of nutrient management practices. According to the data, up to March 2012 over 48 crore soil health cards have been issued to farmers to make them aware about nutrient deficiencies in their fields.

Tamil Nadu has started issuing soil health cards from the year 2006 onwards. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has developed software – DESSIFER which is used by the STLs for online issue of soil heath cards and also in formulating fertilizer use recommendations.

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