Despite having tropical wet and dry climate, extensive irrigation makes Punjab a rich agricultural region. Its canal-irrigation system established by the British is the largest in the world. Wheat and cotton are the largest crops. Other crops include rice, sugarcane, millet, corn, oilseeds, pulses, vegetables, and fruits. Livestock and poultry production are also important.
Punjab contributes about 76% to annual food grain production in the country. Cotton and rice are important crops, often termed as cash crops as these contribute substantially to the national exchequer. Attaining self-sufficiency in agriculture has shifted the focus of the strategies towards small and medium farming, stress on rain irrigated areas, farms-to-market roads, electrification for tube-wells and control of water logging and salinity.
Due to special interest taken by Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and provision of maximum facilities to the farmers, a record production of wheat, rice, maize, potato and sugarcane has been achieved in the province. Wheat production that was 15.6 million tons in 2007-08, rose to 18.4 million tons in 2008-09 and 17.9 million tons in 2009-2010, reached record 19 million tons during 2010-11. Similarly, rice production that was 3.286 million tons in 2007-08 rose to 3.643 million tons in 2008-09 reached the record level of 3.713 million tons in 2009-10 and production reached 3.384 million tons 2010-11, As regards other crops; record sugarcane production of 40.28 million was achieved in 2011-12. Also record production of 2.959 million tons maize and 3.340 million tons potato was achieved in 2010-11.
In Punjab various agricultural research institutes are working with Ayub Research Institute came into being in 1962 after the bifurcation of Punjab Agricultural College into separate teaching and research establishments. The Institute has undergone evolution to build-up infrastructure and human capabilities, which has played a vital role in boosting research efforts to meet the needs of burgeoning population and accelerated industrial needs, and serve farming community.
A number of high yielding sugarcane varieties have been developed that give about 50 higher sugar recovery as compared to unapproved commercial varieties. Technology is available for proper land preparation, optimum planting time, seed rate, seed quality, planting method, fertilizer application, irrigation frequency, plant protection measures and harvesting schedule for maximizing cane and sugar yields. The yield gap between progressive and conventional growers lies in the level of input used and it is to the tune of 2:1. The national average yield can be raised to 60 tons per hectare with sugar recovery of 10 percent, against the existing yields of 48.50 tons cane and 9.46 percent sugar recovery in Punjab, if research recommendations are properly followed.
Fats and oils are important ingredients of human food. In Pakistan, more than a dozen crops are grown to extract oil from their seeds. Rapeseed-Mustard, Sesame, Groundnut, Linseed and Castor are traditional oilseed crops. Sunflower, Soybean and Safflower are regarded as non-traditional oilseed crops as these were introduced in Pakistan from foreign countries. Oil Seed Research Institute, Faisalabad conducts research on Jojoba plant, a shrub introduced in Pakistan from United States of America and its cultivation is being promoted in arid zones specially deserts of Southern Punjab.
The oil extracted from linseed, castor and jojoba is mainly used for industrial/medicinal purposes while Rapeseed Mustard, Sunflower, Soybean, Safflower, Sesame and Groundnut Oil is used for nutritional purposes. Every year Pakistan spends around US$2 billion on the import of edible oil and oilseeds. The local production is hardly 1/3rd of its requirements. Out of the total cropped area of 20.15 million hectares in Pakistan, oilseed crops were grown on 0.748 million hectares during 2008-09. This comes to about 3.70 % of the total cropped area. The per capita edible oil consumption of Pakistan is approximately 13.45 Kg/annum.
Agriculture in barani area is confronted with two main problems i.e. soil erosion and water stress. Soil and water are critical natural resources that sustain human life and the lives of all other creatures on outer planet. The careful husbandry of these natural resources is essential for food security and environmental protection. Sustainable use of these resources is imperative to socially, economically and ecologically viable communities. The problem is further accentuated with uncertain behavior of rainfall.
Soil & Water Conservation Research Institute was established in 1989 in Chakwal to develop technology for controlling soil erosion and conservation of moisture for sustainable and profitable crop production. To evaluate these technologies in different agro-ecological zones of barani (Pothwar) area, Soil & Water Conservation Research Stations were established at Fatehjang and Sohawa in 2004. Now this institute with its stations is continuing its activities in Chakwal, Jhelum, Attock and Rawalpindi districts of Pothwar region.
Pakistan is fifth largest producer of cotton in the world, the third largest exporter of raw cotton, the fourth largest consumer of cotton, and the largest exporter of cotton yarn. It is estimated that 1.5 million farmers, out of a total of 5 million, cultivate cotton over 3 million hectares, covering 15 percent of the cultivable area in the country. Cotton and cotton products contribute about 10 percent to GDP and 55 percent to the foreign exchange earnings of the country.
Cotton production supports Pakistan’s largest industrial sector, comprising some 450 textile mills, 7 million spindles, 27,000 looms in the mill sector (including 15,000 shuttle less looms), over 250,000 looms in the non-mill sector, 700 knitwear units, 4,000 garment units (with 200,000 sewing machines), 650 dyeing and finishing units (with finishing capacity of 1,150 million square meters per year), nearly 1,000 ginneries, 300 mega oil expellers, and 15,000 to 20,000 indigenous, small scale oil expellers. Punjab being located in arid and semi-arid region, cotton is the natural crop suitable for agro-climatic conditions of central and southern Punjab for sustainable long term use of water and land resources.
Punjab is also the major producer of rice that also helps the country in earning huge foreign exchange reserves besides providing the staple food. In achieving higher output Rice Research Institute, Kala Shah Kaku has played a major role. Research work on rice was started in 1926 when a rice farm was established at Kala Shah Kaku in the famous rice bowl called “Kalar Tract” of the Punjab. Rice Farm was elevated to the level of Rice Research Station in 1965. Rice Research Station was upgraded to the status of Rice Research Institute in 1970 with eight research disciplines. Rice Research Institute has done a commendable work on the development of rice varieties and production technologies since 1926 and developed 18 rice varieties.