Nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy: Will farmers adopt agricultural best management practices? An article in EPW

The new nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy policy provides implicit incentives to farmers to test soil samples regularly and get crop-wise recommended doses of nutrients.

It offers prospective benefits from the agro-environmental management point of view. A study of six villages in the lower Bhavani Basin in Tamil Nadu by Sacchidananda Mukherjee in Economic and Political Weekly reveals that despite a strong willingness on the part of farmers to adopt agricultural best management practices, inadequate infrastructure and the high transaction costs involved in accessing such services make them reluctant to test soil samples regularly. This paper looks at the institutional, infrastructural and agronomic factors influencing farmers’ willingness, and concludes that the new policy needs to be supplemented with basic agricultural extension services through public-private partnerships.


The new nutrient based fertiliser subsidy policy determines the amount of subsidy based on the nutrient. This aims to encourage farmers to test their soil for nutrient deficiencies. In order to avail of this subsidy, the farmers need to know not only the deficiencies in their soil, but also the recommended doses of nutrients for the crop of their choice. While this should logically discourage ad-hoc application of chemical fertiliser, inadequate infrastructure challenges this presumption.


This paper highlights some of the critical issues pertaining to the nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy policy from the agro-environment management point of view.


Nitrate-affected districts in Tamil Nadu were identified using groundwater quality data from the Department of Drinking Water Supply.A structured questionnaire survey was administered to 395 farm households in these six villages where questions were asked about perceptions about ground water quality and about their agricultural best management practices.

Study area: 

The study considers the lower Bhavani river basin in Tamil Nadu. Large parts of Erode and Coimbatore district, which are the most nitrate affected habitations fall within this basin. Six villages in the basin were selected for study. A structured survey was administered to 395 farm households in these six villages where questions were asked about perceptions about ground water quality and about their monitoring practices.

Results and discussion:

Farmers’ perceptions about groundwater quality and their willingness to protect groundwater vary with the actual groundwater nitrate situation. Out of 395 sample households, only 167 households (42.3%) tested their soil samples. Not being able to afford to test soil, either in terms of time or money was a major deterrent to soil testing. Utilisation of government soil testing facilities was very high which shows that existing infrastructure is not adequate to cater to all the farmers. On an average 46.3% of the sample farmers apply fertilisers on the basis of recommendations made by the fertiliser dealers, 32.5% on the basis of recommendations of their relatives and neighbours and 21% on the basis of their own judgement. However, testing of soil and getting crop-wise recommended doses of fertilisers do not necessarily ensure that the farmers will follow the recommendations due to a perception that this will not affect crop productivity.


The study shows that farmers’ willingness to test soil samples is high (as revealed by their willingness to pay for soil test). However, inadequate infrastructure and high transaction costs involved in accessing the facilities make them reluctant to test their soil samples regularly. The new policy requires a supplementary programme to provide farmers with basic agricultural extension services and empowers them with information, consultations and demonstrations.


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