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CambPlants Hub

A networking organisation for plants-related research and impact

CambPlants met with CINTRIN partner Varinderpal Singh from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to speak about his work on the PAU-Leaf Colour Chart (PAU-LCC), which is a breakthrough technology providing a decision-support system to sustain high yields with optimum nitrogen dose in field crops. Varinderpal has spent the past five months in Cambridge, working as a visiting researcher at NIAB.

Varinderpal.jpgHow did you come to work in the CINTRIN project and what is your role in it?

CINTRIN was looking for a soil scientist, so I got involved. My role in the project is to improve nitrogen use efficiency in crops, including the development of need-based fertilizer nitrogen management strategies. I educate farmers so that they start adopting these technologies in order to minimize the escape of reactive nitrogen from soil-plant system to atmosphere and water bodies.

How is the work progressing?

It is going very well; I am very happy with how the project is making progress.

What has been the biggest challenge in training the farmers and extension specialists on the use of the PAU-Leaf Colour Chart – has it received a positive response?

The biggest challenge has been to convince the farmers of the benefits of reduced nitrogen use, instead of applying the fertilizer generously as they have done before. They are afraid of yield loss, because they are used to having lush, green crops with high nitrogen use.

The NGO Atam Pargas Social Welfare Council, with whom we have been collaborating in the Punjab state of India, has been instrumental in winning the farmers over. With their help, we have been able to convince the farmers of the use of the PAU-Leaf Colour Chart – at the beginning, they used to just laugh at us, that how high yields could be achieved with low nitrogen use!


And what do you consider your biggest success so far?

It is exactly that; having been able to convince the farmers on the benefits of reduced nitrogen use, without having to suffer from yield loss. It has brought them economic benefits also in savings on insecticides, and of course it has a positive effect on the environment.

What kind of economic savings can the farmers and Government achieve by using the PAU-LCC?

Assuming that there is a saving of 30 kg of nitrogen per hectare, the adoption of PAU-LCC in all rice, wheat, maize and cotton fields in the Indian Punjab alone would bring an annual saving of 7.5 billion INR (2.5 billion for farmers and 5 billion for the Government). So, on a global scale, we are talking about huge amounts. And of course the resulting prevention of water pollution and benefits to ecosystems and biodiversity is priceless.


You have now been visiting NIAB in Cambridge. What are you doing here, and how is the collaboration between India and Cambridge working?

I am here to work on the science behind the technology. We are discussing how to develop and adapt this technology, also to be used in the UK and other areas, when to use it, and so on. In the UK, it could be used for potato, maize and wheat. We need to develop recommendations for the farmers to adopt PAU-Leaf Colour Chart in UK farm crops.  

The collaboration is going well, we have a very good team and people are enjoying the work.


How will the work continue from here?

As I mentioned, the technology can be adapted for use in the UK and other areas; we have had interest for example from China and Pakistan. Many farmers use expensive sensors to draw precision nitrogen management decisions, and the machines require repair and maintenance, whereas the PAU-Leaf Colour Chart only costs one pound! And in CINTRIN, we are asking the plant, not the soil for what is needed.