‘Agronomy’ has been derived from the Greek derivatives ‘Agros’ and ‘nomos’ which respectively mean ‘field’ and ‘management’. The foundation of the American Society of Agronomy in 1907 led to a vigorous development of the subject; but in India, the field management of crops has been advocated from very early days of agriculture.
‘Krishi Parashar’ is a text of ancient agriculture in Sanskrit. Although there is no documentary evidence, it is argued that the author sage ‘Parashar’ in the 4th century AD paid great attention to the management of agriculture.
This is evident from his following verses:
- “Farms yield gold if properly managed but lead to poverty if neglected“.
- “Management of one’s harem may be entrusted to one’s father, that of the kitchen to one’s mother and that of cattle to someone equal in status. But farm should never be left to the care of anyone other than oneself.”
- “Agriculture, cattle, business, women and royal families if left unattended even for a short while perish in no time”.
- “Only the capable, motivated by the welfare of people should undertake farming. An incapable farmer lands himself in poverty”.
The above statements of sage ‘Parashar’ are true for research in Agronomy as well as for agricultural administrators. Very meticulously planned field experiment will give good result only if it is supervised and executed well. The messages of Parashar are very relevant on macro-scale also. It is ironical therefore, that during the last 50 years of the existence of our Society, the Agronomists and the policy makers of Indian agriculture have not bothered much about the good management of agriculture and field experiments. Agriculture has been paid lip service. Government policies have not been based on sound management principles but have been ad-hoc and sometimes even faulty. It is believed that only high-yielding cultivars and hybrid seeds are enough to increase production. Irrigation facilities have been created but without proper attention to drainage. Application of inorganic fertilizers has been promoted without equal insistence on organic manures like farmyard manure, compost and residue management. Indiscriminate use of pesticides has created problems of toxic vegetables, fruits, and grains and residues of the pesticides in the soil. Now the sustainability issues have come to forefront and we are worried with low factor productivity. The message of Parashar for good management is an integral part of good agronomy and management of entire agriculture.
The beginning of the Indian Society of Agronomy can be traced in a letter issued in 1955 from Dr. H.R Arakeri, (who served as the first Patron of the Society from 1974 to 1979), then Sugarcane Specialist, Padegaon, then in Bombay presidency and now in Maharashtra state in continuation of the one that was circulated earlier from Gwalior then in Madhya Bharat and now in Madhya Pradesh. The activities in the formative stage were shifted to the Division of Agronomy at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. It was registered as a Society with its headquarters at the IARI, New Delhi under Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860 vide No. S 1109 dated 23rd July 1957.
The objectives of the Society were as follows:
- “To disseminate knowledge of Agronomy and Agricultural Extension.
- “To encourage research in the scientific and practical aspects of the soil, crops and soil-crop relationship in itself and with respect to environment and methods of agricultural extension.
- “To provide facilities for periodical meetings among research workers in Agronomy and Agricultural Extension.
- When a separate Division of Agricultural Extension was created in the IARI, the word ‘Agricultural Extension’ was dropped from objectives of the Society.
The Executive Council for 1956 was as follows.
Dr. Punjabrao S. Deshmukh., Union Minister for Agriculture, Government of India.
Councilors : (Western Zone)
Dr. H.R Arakeri, Sugarcane Specialist, Sugarcane Research Station, Padegaon, P.O. Nira, Poona, BS.
Sh. S.K. Mukherjee, Professor, Agriculture College, P.O. Kanke, Ranchi, Bihar
Sh. R.R. Panje, Botanist, Sugarcane Breeding Station, Lawley Road, P.O. Coimbatore, Madras
Dr N. K. Anantha Rao, Professor of Agronomy, Balwant Rajput Agricultural College, Bichpuri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Sh. B.P. Tiwari, Agriculturist, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur
Dr. J.N. Sharma, Agronomist, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi
Dr. P.C. Raheja, Head, Division of Agronomy, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi.
Sh. K.S. Yawalkar, Agronomist, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi
For a scientific society, publication of a journal was imperative. Therefore, it was also decided to publish “The Indian Journal of Agronomy” quarterly in August, November, February and May by the Society. Then, the timing of publication was changed. It is now being published quarterly in March, June, September and December. The first issue was published in August 1956 with the following contents:
(I) Original Articles
# Role of agronomists in Second Five Year Plan – Dr. Punjabrao S. Deshmukh
# Estimation of residual value of phosphorous fertilizer by chemical and radio-chemicals methods – R.D. Verma
# Phosphate manuring of legumes. VI. Role of phosphate manured legumes in mixed farming holdings – S. Sen and S.S. Bains
# Study of drought resistance in certain crop plants – D.K. Misra
# Relation of root development to drought resistance of plants – D.K. Misra
(B) Agricultural Extension
# Some suggestions for improving yield and quality of sugarcane in Uttar Pradesh in sugar factory areas – R.K. Tandon, R.L. Bhoj and S.N. Singh
(II) Review Article
# Nutrient uptake from leaf sprays by crops – Gillian Thorne
(IV) Topical News
The Society has been organizing symposia on topical themes during its biennial meetings. The proceedings of these symposia have been published. Thus, vast amount of literature has been published which are useful for researchers and teachers of agronomy. The format of the journal had been changing for improvement. Now, its get up and printing is as good as any scientific journal in the world.
The Society celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1980 and published “Quarter Century of Agronomic Research in India (1955-1980)”, a special Silver Jubilee Publication. The then president of the Society, Dr. P.S. Lamba, presented a survey of “Agronomic Research and Education – Retrospect and Prospect”. He gave highlights of research on multiple cropping, weed control, efficient use of water and fertilizers, cultural practices of new crop varieties, cropping patterns, soil moisture conservation and soil management. He emphasized the role of Agronomists in the future for conducting research on conservation farming, increasing productivity levels, stability and sustainability, land use patterns and energy management. role of system analysis and simulation modeling in managing large interdisciplinary programs. These issues are relevant even today and are being pursued as is evidenced by an analysis of the contents of post-Silver Jubilee issues of the “Indian Journal of Agronomy”. This issue had additionally thorough review of research on the following four topics of agronomy:
- Soil fertility and fertilizer use in India
- Water management of crops
- Status of weed research in India
- Dryland agriculture
There were reviews on the agronomy of rice, barley, pearlmillet, grain sorghum, grain legumes, wheat, forage and pasture crops.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research initiated All India Crop Improvement Programmes that targeted important crops and groups of crops. Plant breeders, Agronomists, Entomologists, Plant Pathologists from ICAR and the State Agriculture Universities (SAUs) were all involved. These coordinated projects had a big agronomic component. All India Coordinated Agronomic Programmes, with centers in ecological zones of the country and select districts in different states conducting experiments on farmers’ fields, also operated during this period. Thus, during the last 50 years, agronomic research in the country flourished. Now this programme (originally known as Model Agronomy Programme) has shifted from the Division of Agronomy IARI, New Delhi, to Modipuram near Meerut, U.P. In its new incarnation, it is known as the Project Directorate of Cropping Systems Research. This new institute is now developing relevant programmes on farming system research which is needed for small and marginal farmers.
The ICAR also launched in January 1979, with assistance from World Bank, a project for strengthening Regional Research Capabilities of Agricultural Universities. It was named National Agricultural Research Programs (NARP). The NARP enhanced the scope of agronomic work in every ecological region served by the State Agricultural Universities (SAUs). The role of Agronomists was paramount in this project, but NARP centers still have to correlate the productivity of the adapted crops with the edapho-climatic and socio-economic environment of the area they had to serve. In another World Bank funded project, the National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP), Agronomists had to play a key role in this programme in which ecosystem-wise research and agronomic research were considerably promoted in the country.
This short account gives a summary of the development of agronomic research since the inception of the Society. The story would not be complete without mentioning the two institutes and one national center which were created by the ICAR during this period where agronomic research was dominant: Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) at Jodhpur, where the first secretary of the Society, Dr. P.C. Raheja served as founder Director; and Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) at Hyderabad, and National Research Center for Weed Science (NRCWS) at Jabalpur. Thus, Agronomists have expanded facilities for research during these 50 years of the existence of our Society. In order to project itself globally, the Society organized the International Congress of Agronomy and an effort was made to make it a continuing event. Participants from other countries were requested to organize such Congress in the future in different countries so that agronomic knowledge could be exchanged, new frontiers be explored and an exchange of scholars be organized. New Delhi hosted these Congresses twice. In the early days of the Society there were financial difficulties. Many new ideas could not be implemented due to financial constraints. Now the Society is financially strong and is in a position to recognize and award young scientists for their excellent papers and contribution to Agronomy.
Agronomic research till recently centered mainly round the comparison of varieties, fertilizer and water application, time and rate of seeding, and similar trials. Concepts of potential yield were generally unrecognized. Intensive cropping systems and farming systems were being worked out. Experimental designs allowed no measure of the variability that might be expected from a wider application of the results.
Now the following improvements in the methodology have taken place:
- The experimental designs have been expanded to estimate responses and the variability of responses over a region and over a range of seasonal conditions. This has made possible (a) the elimination of transfer variables, (b) to define the ‘population for which the results will be valid e.g. for a crop trial stipulate the soil type, geographical area, topographical situations, climatic zones or other requisite parameters and so define the limits, to some degree, the environmental variables, (c) to sample this population adequately by means of experiments which may be fertilizer trials, physiological experiments so as to obtain responses and an estimate of expected variability of the responses, (d) estimate of the variability of response from season to season. Designs are available which permit the assessment of the variability of responses in the field with space and time. They permit the calibration of the soil chemical test with responses and establishment of soil chemical criteria. The availability of data generated by satellites has opened entirely new frontiers. Laser technologies, nano-techniques will affect the Agronomy in future.
- The examination, as a whole, of problems affecting a region or industry – he experimental approach to this mass of variables and their interrelationship could be to divide the problem into a number of, so far as possible, autonomous sections and in each section select one or more variable and then endeavor to coordinate the results. Computers are able to analyze the relationship of a dependent variable as a function of several independent variables.
- Whole farm studies of the effect of applying the new technology.
- New concepts in the design and analysis of the agronomic experiments are being evolved.
Analysis of variance while satisfactory for discrete data is inadequate for the interpretation of data that measure a continuous response. Present day tendency is towards regression analysis frequently with an increase in the number of treatments at the expense of replications.
The above details indicate that since the field of Agronomy as an academic discipline is young and growing rapidly changes are inevitable and older precedents may be expected to lose their validity. One should not quote a precedence of 50 years ago when the Agronomy was growing. Persons with formal training were not available. The subject has come to its own today.
In the 20th century, Agronomy first developed as a science with a typical American urge to grow “bigger and better crops.” The foundation of the American Society of Agronomy in 1907 led to a vigorous development of the subject as a field science. Sir R.G. Staplendon made a comment in the Herbage Abstract in 1938. He stated: “The major aim of agronomical research, which is essentially field research, is to study all the factors which are operative at once and together, and in their natural interplay, for “nature is a theatre for the interrelations of activities”. Such a procedure, it may be said, is impossible, and if it is unscientific it will yet remain agronomical and many of the problems of agriculture are more likely to be solved, by agronomical investigations than by scientific research, while nearly all the results of scientific research have to pass through the sieve of an immense amount of agronomical investigations before they can be other than positively dangerous to the practitioner. Well-being every item of human food and clothing, has somewhere along the line from its source to its final synthesis, challenged the interest of an Agronomist. The Agronomist not only occupies a position that is fundamentally important in agriculture, but in industry as well. Much of the industrial production is dependent upon successful crop production. Problems of land use adjustment and soil conservation, which affect both urban and rural people, require the guiding hand of an Agronomist to help in their solution.
Staplendon’s suggestions allow the studies of biodynamic farming, which is being tested and propagated in the name of environmental protection. The ‘cow-horn technology’ using the cow dung from a lactating cow composted in the hollow of cow horn, buried in soil at an auspicious moment and then applying in the field is stated to increase soil N03-N and enhancing crop growth and yield. Planetary rhythms and constellations increase the fertilizer use efficiency. Crops grown for leafy vegetables should be grown in one phase of moon and those grown for their roots in the other phase. Published data from such experiments should be critically analyzed. Experiments should be designed and conducted to prove or discard the claims of biodynamic farmers.
An interdisciplinary open-minded and openly critical approach is essential in any branch of modern science. But as several researchers put that such outlook has to come from the heart. Those recruiting today’s young Agronomists in leading ICAR Institutes and SAUs are indeed working closely at what makes candidates tick in the profession. Top qualifications and papers are not enough; attitude to interdisciplinary collaboration is what must help Indian Agronomy to flourish. We need workers who are committed to interdisciplinary collaboration is what must help Indian Agronomy for flourish. We need workers who are committed to interdisciplinary and open-mined research in the 21st century.
[This information is based on a Plenary Lecture delivered by Dr. Ambika Singh, Former President of Indian Society of Agronomy, at the Golden Jubilee Biennial Symposium of the Society held at Banaras Hindu University, Varansi during 23-26 October, 2006]