Wheat cultivation in rain-fed areas
By Khawar Jabran and Dr Muhammad Farooq
wheat in rain-fed (barani) conditions is being practiced
in many countries which are getting more yield than in
ours due to adoption of better management practices.
Wheat production in rain-fed region can be enhanced by
adopting certain management practices that include
infiltrating and conserving moisture into the soil,
selecting suitable wheat cultivars, well-timed sowing by
recommended method, judicious use of fertilisers,
controlling pests and weeds and proper harvesting of the
Cultivation of the crop in rain-fed areas involves
preservation of moisture, the crucial growth factor for
crops, from rainfall. The moisture collected from the
monsoon rains during July and August is infiltrated into
the soil and preserved for growing wheat crop. The
surface run off of water from excess rainfall can be
preserved for future use by wheat plants.
To achieve the objective, the soil is loosened by
tillage up to a depth of more than 20cm using a chisel
plough before the advent of rainy season to enhance
water permeation capacity of the soil. Exercising soils
with mould board plough in the barani areas should be
avoided as it turns the land upside down bringing salts
at the surface layer hampering wheat germination and
When the rains stop, the land is planked tightly to
withhold maximum moisture. The moisture magnitude
retained in the soil depends upon the extent of
precipitation, temperature, degree of management and
soil properties like depth, texture and organic matter
status. For instance, a rainfall of less that 20cm adds
very little water to soil not satisfactory for
completion of wheat growth while the areas receiving a
rainfall more than 50cm can be successfully put under
wheat crop. Rain-fed lands may be left unsown during the
summer season to provide all moisture contents conserved
in the soil for successful wheat production.
Other techniques can also be employed to reduce moisture
depletion from soil before and during the growing
period. One such technique is the mulching of soil
surface to avoid evaporation losses. Mulches can be
natural including straw, leaves, farm residues, compost
etc. or artificial including plastic sheet, rock, gravel
etc. Moreover, spray of 100mm solution of glycinebetaine
during the vegetative stages enables wheat plants to
withstand against water stress.
Variety selection is crucial in the case of rain-fed
grown wheat. Drought resistant or tolerant wheat
varieties can better survive deficient moisture
conditions. Research institutes in the country have
developed varieties that are well adapted to rain-fed
conditions. These include GA-2002, Chakwal-97, Rawal-87,
Kohistan-97, Inqlab-91, and Pasban-90.
Sowing time for wheat in rain-fed areas is of key
importance. Early sowing during last week of October and
first week of November allows seeds to imbibe more water
for germination due to sufficient moisture in the
seeding zone. Moreover, temperature of approximately
25ęC during this period supports rapid germination for a
vigorous crop stand.
Seed rate for rain-fed crop is variable depending upon
the time of sowing. In case of late sowing, the seed
rate is increased. For instance, the seed rate for
sowing up to 15 November is 125kg per hectare (ha) while
late sowing between 16 November and 15 December requires
150kg per ha. Germination percentage of the seed must be
equal to or more than 90 per cent.
Seed is soaked in plain water for 10-12 hours so that it
may suck moisture to support germination. Wheat grains
produced in rain-fed areas are usually petite than
normal due to limited moisture. Therefore, precaution
must be taken while selecting seed. Seeds are graded to
remove undersized and shriveled sized grains for proper
and uniform germination.
It is suggested that fields in rain-fed areas be sown
using a drill without any preparatory tillage.
Eventually the zero tillage drills are deemed better for
wheat cultivation in rain-fed areas. Although, tillage
plays significant role in managing weeds, however,
moisture conservation is more critical while weeds
germinated before sowing can be controlled using a
non-selective herbicide like gramaxone or round up at
3.0L per ha and 2.5L per ha respectively.
Optimum seeding depth is imperative for uniform
germination in rain-fed areas. Normally the seed is
place 5-7cm deep in soil while the one placed deeper
than 8cm results in reduce emergence leading to poor
crop stand while seeds placed in near surface are unable
to acquire enough moisture for germination. Drill sowing
places the seed at adjusted depth. A distance of 15-20cm
between the rows results in higher yields than 25-30cm
Fertilisers if managed properly contribute more or less
50 per cent to total production of a crop. Moreover
fertilisers enhance the 1000-grain weight, protein
contents, gluten quality and bread making quality of the
wheat. All fertilisers in rain-fed sown wheat are
drilled along with seed and placed 5-8cm below the seed
to maximise its utilisation. Fertiliser rates must be
decided on the basis soil analysis and the amount of
rainfall. However the general recommendations suggested
by the agriculture department are as follows:
Area Annual rainfall Nutrient
(mm) elements (kg ha-1)
N P K
Low rainfall 350 57 57 60
Medium rainfall 350-500 85 57 60
High rainfall More than 500 115 85 60
Foliar application of two to
four per cent urea and KCL solution at 50, 70 and 85
days intervals after sowing is advantageous to improve
dry matter accumulation and net assimilation rate in
wheat. Moreover, spray of five per cent zinc sulphate 60
days after sowing activates certain enzymes, promotes
plant growth and boosts flowering and seed setting.
Weeds rapidly drain the soil moisture, fertiliser and
other growth substances so required to be controlled
from the very beginning. Pre-emergence application of
stomp 33EC (pendimethalin) at 2.5L per ha effectively
control weeds in rain-fed sown wheat. On the other hand
sanitary measures and other cultural practices help
minimise weed flora.
Termites severely threaten the rain-fed cultivated wheat
by attacking the plant roots usually in patches causing
the yellowing of plants and death in some cases.
Chlorpyrifos 30EC application before the last tilling of
soil solves the termite problem effectively.
Diseases like rusts, smuts, ear cockle and foot rot etc.
can gravely diminish wheat output in barani parts. Pre-
sowing seed treatment with fungicides like vitavax,
carbendazine, benlate (each at 2g per kg of wheat seed)
depresses the disease infestation. Rouging to eradicate
infected plants prevents further dispersal of diseases.
Wheat crop matures little earlier in rain-fed areas than
the irrigated ones. Grain hardening, turning of leaves
to light yellow and drying of straw are the signs of
maturity. Moisture status of wheat grains at maturation
is 18-22 per cent which is reduced by drying to less
than 12 per cent for safe storage.
Courtesy: The DAWN