Enriched soil enhances productivity
An enriched soil has withstood the vagaries of monsoon and a depleting ground water table to provide an enviable sugarcane yield in a farm in Puliangudi of Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu. Sustained attention given to soil health using organic inputs has enabled V. Antonisamy reap 65 to 70 tonnes of sugarcane per acre in his farm.
Explaining the methodology adopted to enhance soil quality, Mr. Antonisamy, who has been raising sugarcane in the same field for the past 23 years, says that trenches of 1.5 foot depth are created in the field soon after harvest and filled with organic waste. The sugarcane shoots are cut to uniform size and water is supplied to the compost through drips.
Legume seeds are planted along the margins of the trench at the rate of 30 kg per acre and watered for 45 days using drips. The legumes grow to a height of around four feet and prevent sunlight falling on the shoots, stunting their growth. Besides absorbing nitrogen in their roots, the legumes also bring down the temperature by 4 degree Celsius, says Mr. Antonisamy. “Low temperature and high humidity prevent the entry of maggots. This obviates the need to use pesticides.”
One-time weeding is adopted to remove the legumes, which are then mixed with soil and placed supportive of the bunds along the row of sugarcane shoots. The mix of soil with legume creates an atmosphere conducive for the growth of micro nutrients. Water is again supplied through drips to strengthen the support provided by uprooted legumes. Now, sunlight falls on the sugarcane, facilitating its growth.
After 120 days, the hanging leaves are removed from sugarcane and left to compost near the root. Besides retaining soil’s moisture, this practice also enhances multiplication of micro organisms. The internode of the sugarcane has an average length of 15 cm and the sheath is not rough.
Mr. Antonisamy does not claim that no pest attacks his farm. “The good ones take care of the bad ones. For example, the Mealybug is eaten by another pest which is not harmful. But the robust nature of the crop has ensured that there is no migration of pests or insects from abutting farms.” A normal sugarcane in the farm has over 20 internodes and weighs three kg. It grows up to 10 feet in height. Ten shoots grow in a pit, separated by two feet from the other. The airy aisles enable a person to walk in between rows of sugarcane without any hindrance. The difference in temperature in the aisle and outside is tangible. The drippers ensure that the soil is always kept wet.
Mr. Antonisamy does not sell the cane to sugar mills but produces jaggery for sale through various outlets, including the ones dealing with organic products. Soil and jaggery samples are sent to laboratories in various places for testing annually. Results from the tests conducted at the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru, and Shri M. M. Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre, Chennai, show a higher content of soil organic carbon, against the desired level of one to 1.5 per cent, and 80 per cent of sucrose content in sugarcane. The results say that presence of metals and organochlorine pesticides are below detectable limit and coliform or yeast is zero.
Endorsing Mr. Antonisamy’s claim of higher yield, the Joint Director of Agriculture, Tirunelveli, C. Chandrasekaran, says that it is possible by enhancing the soil’s carbon-nitrogen ratio through use of the right agents. According to him, the maximum yield of sugarcane in the district reported elsewhere is 35 tonnes per acre. The Department of Agriculture rewards and recognises record yield in paddy, millets and oilseeds but that is not the case with sugarcane. P. Gomathinayagam, a recipient of Srishti Samman and an expert in natural farming, cautions that higher productivity and income could be achieved only through sustained hard work over a period. Beginners should have an alternative source of income before plunging into organic or natural farming.