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Tuesday September 17, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday September 17, 2013 MYT 9:57:06 AM
by tan cheng li
Better growth: A new planting method developed by the Sugarcane Research Station in Tamil Nadu, India, requires sugarcane buds to be grown into one-month-old seedlings before being planted in the field. - TAN CHENG LI / The Star
Innovations give sugarcane farmers in India a boost.
SUGARCANE is a major crop in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, with 3.5 million hectares under cultivation. The huge sprawl of sugarcane fields is what makes India the world’s second largest sugar producer, after Brazil. The farms, however, are dogged by environmental problems such as water shortages, degraded soil, poor yields, and rising cultivation costs.
To turn the industry around, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s Sugarcane Research Station in Sirugamani has developed new breeds and planting methods to help farmers get higher yields at lower costs.
Traditionally, the crop is cultivated by laying 15cm-long sugarcane segments (each containing two to three buds) in the ground. In the new method, sugarcane chips with a single bud each are grown into month-old seedlings before being planted in the field. This entails more work but the extra effort brings in advantages in the long run, according to assistant professor Dr N. Satheeshkumar.
One benefit is that less planting material is needed. While the old way requires 4,000kg (four tonnes) of sugarcane segments per acre (0.4ha), the new method needs only 10% of that. It is also cheaper – cultivation cost is 5,500 rupees per acre against 15,000 rupees for the traditional method. Yield is also higher: 900 tonnes per acre instead of 600 tonnes under the old way.
The seedlings are also more tolerant of wet conditions as they already have roots, whereas the cuttings can rot. Intense rain will also break the buds on cuttings. And as only small semi-circular pieces with buds are cut, the rest of the sugarcane sticks can still be sent to the mill for processing into sugar, jaggery, molasses or alcohol.
The bagasse (sugarcane pulp) that remains can be turned into press mud (fertiliser) and paper. Also, farmers are encouraged to leave the leaves on the field as mulch.
“After one to two months, it will decompose and turn into nutrients for the field,” says Satheeshkumar.
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Environment, Environment, ecowatch, sustainable farming
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