Hightech Interventions in Horticulture Crops

By : Soman, P.
Posted on: May 2016 Source : Innovations in Horticultural Sciences

Technologies for cultivation of crops are changing over the years. Adherence to the principles of conservation, high input-use efficiency and higher productivity with optimum inputs and the very idea of crop production as a business venture; all these are leading to increased adoption of high technological (high-tech) crop production practises.

In India, the tempo of adoption of high-tech methods is receiving a shot in the arm by the promotion of such technologies through governmental interventions. The trend of governmental support to the small farmers to acquire technologies like drip irrigation, fertigation and protected structures etc. has been spreading from state to state.

Among the different inputs to crop production, water and fertilizer, the two major components of High-tech cultivation assume the highest priority by virtue of the fact that the country has shortage for both and both are essential for any type of crops. For example, India with a landmass of 2.4% has only 4% freshwater of the globe to cater to 17% of world population. For the sake of comparison, USA with a population of 4.5% has 7 % land mass and 6% freshwater (IWMI, 2009).

Indian Agriculture at cross roads

Agriculture in India is climate restricted; 48% of the geographical area of the country is receiving less than 1000 mm rain and the remaining 1000-2500 mm. The difficulty is that the rainfall occurs in 3-4 months duration making it imperative for rainwater harvesting, storage and irrigation. But the available water for irrigation is insufficient to cover the net cultivated area. Only 48% of cultivated area is presently irrigated.Irrigation cover can not be increased as the total available water of 1143 BCM/year would not extend further. By 2050, our water need (both irrigation and total need) would cross the availability level. This is a grim situation. It is made more so by the need for increasing food production. To achieve the increased food production of 494 million tones by 2050, our irrigated area should increase from 79 million ha to 146 million ha. This is impossible to happen as the water is limited. Production cannot be increased by increasing in area alone; area will increase only by 2 million ha during 2010-2050. So we are into a very difficult situation.

The only way out is to identify water conserving irrigation methods and achieve high productivity through input efficient technologies. Incidentally, the technology of drip irrigation and fertigation serves better in this scenario. It offers a way of irrigating more land with less water (water saving); more yield with less water (food security) and more food production with less energy use (energy security). In all, high-tech agriculture is pushed ahead by these twin technologies. The use of protected structures for growing crops offers yet further advantages for the grower to enhance production and quality.

What are high tech interventions?

There are several steps and factors where high–tech methods of cultivation can be introduced. As long as the objective is to produce more from less, the different measures to enforce precision in operation and provision of inputs would be justified.

By definition, high-tech farming or precision farming is :

    • A management strategy which identifies, analyses and manages within field variability for increased profit and reduced environmental impact.

    • Farming by the meter, farming by satellite, micro- site specific management and prescription farming.

Precision agriculture is the application of technologies and principles to manage spatial and temporal variability associated with all aspects of agricultural production for increasing productivity and environmental quality. The success in precision agriculture depends on the accurate assessment of the variability, its management and evaluation in spacetime continuum in crop production; i e. precision in quantities and timeliness for each operation. It is nothing but exact agriculture to extract highest returns from farming activities.

The agronomic feasibility of precision agriculture has been intuitive, depending largely on the application of traditional recommendations at finer scales. The agronomic success of precision agriculture has been quite convincing in crops like vegetables, banana, sugar beet, sugarcane, tea and coffee. The potential for economic, environmental and social benefits of precision agriculture is largely unrealized because the space-time continuum of crop production has not been adequately addressed.

Variability in everything connected to crop cultivation

An analysis of a farm land and the situation of Indian farmer will show very clearly variations within land for every factor one can think of. As shown below (By grid sampling and analysis of a large number of samples taken from the grids) the available N in the soil is highly variable from grid to grid in one field.

This field should be fertilized with N fertilizer, not uniformly but variably using VRT (variable rate technology).

Likewise variability can occur in other soil nutrients, soil physical state, texture, weed incidence, germination of seed, water holding capacity, disease incidence, insect pest incidence etc. All these variability would contribute to optimal to sub optimal crop performance in the same field in different grids. How can we overcome this variability and get the entire surface area of the field to perform uniformly high. (PF) Precision farming is an approach to make this happen.

The assessment of existing variability is only one aspect of PF. In our farming situation even this type of assessment cannot be done easily. In developed countries, such assessments are done using modern technological handle. For example use of GPS (global positioning system); involves dividing a field into several small and equal divisions using the sub-inch accuracy of GPS. To do this, the tractor is fitted with a dish antenna to receive signals from satellites, which are recorded on a tractormounted computer. Soil samples are mechanically taken from each subdivision, a process technically known as “Grid Sampling” and analysed for each nutrient. The data are then superimposed on to the grids and colour-grams will clearly provide a message to the grower on deciding how much fertilizer should be applied to each grid based on what is actually available.

Second most important factor after the assessment is application of the input (here N fertilizer, in the example) according to its availability as seen from the grid data. This procedure is termed as Variable Rate Technology (VRT). The following are the technologies behind ensuring Precision in farming.

    • Global Positioning System (GPS)
    • Yield Monitoring in every square meter of the land
    • Variable Rate Technology (VRT) for application of inputs
    • Remote sensing for assessment and quantification
    • Geographic Information System (GIS) for rapid study and correction measures.

VRT for example, is achieved through tractor-mounted computer guided spreader equipment capable of reading the variability of fertility from colour-grams. Fertilizers are then automatically applied at variable rates only to where they are needed as indicated by the colour-grams.

In Indian situation so far we are not applying these technologies as such. Though GPS and Remote sensing are utilized in large scale resource assessment, they have not found a place in small farms yet. Similarly computer guided tractors and variable fertilizer spreaders are still a long way far for us.

Let us now look at the way PF is getting practised in our small farm situations. The affordable level of precision in input management-fertilizer, irrigation water, pesticides and management- timing of operations, and ensuring of quality for all inputs –seed, nursery seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides etc. are brought in, in many of the precision farming projects that are implemented.

An important component of this package is training and capacity building among the growers. Agencies implementing this type of project and public institutions sponsoring/funding them should ensure that growers are adequately trained and supported.

In a situation like ours where the application of these high level technologies in small Indian farms is less than practical, the following interventions at the farm level are found to yield appreciable results.

Soil Preparation Humus level, microbial load, aeration & drainage, fertility restoration
Seed Variety and Quality
Nursery/seedlings Physically, physiologically uniform seedlings with intact roots
Crop geometry Single, double, triple and tetra rows
Irrigation Strictly as per crop requirement at each stage
Fertigation Varying nutrients at critical stages of growth
Growth management Regulation of flowering, training/pruning of the canopy
Plant protection Monitoring System , IPM
Field Level PHM Harvest, handling, sorting and grading and labeling crates
Crop plan Rotation/Relay/Intercrop systems to fully use time and space.

Interventions with tested and proven technologies and inputs in the openfield or protected (green house) cultivation in any one or more steps as listed above would result in higher yields and higher financial returns to the grower. The whole concept centres round the idea that space, time and resources are limited and hence endeavour to hike productivity to maximum in relation to these limitations.

Protected cultivation can also form a part of PF but its need has to be assessed specifically; the climate, soil or market if impose restrictions in achieving higher yields and profits, then introduction of exotic crops, growing in off -season and producing several fold yield per unit area can be implemented through protected cultivation.

Availability of several different technologies for input management and high yielding input responsive crop varieties offer a golden era for high tech cultivation of several crops. It is up to the grower or the supporting agency to collate these technologies and give an appropriate package to the grower. In the process, growers can be encouraged to form co-operatives/groups and can be trained to manage their produce and plan the farming with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Why do we need high tech crop production?

It is estimated that world population will grow from 6.0 billion in 2000 to 7.5 billion by 2020. While there is an ever increasing demand for food, total arable land will not grow from current level of 3080 million ha. In order to ensure global food security and nutrition demand, productivity of land has to be increased by minimum 40-50% in next 20 years by using appropriate technologies.Population in India has topped 1.21 billion and it is growing by 17.64% per decade (Min. Agri, GOI website). Ensuring food security to the 7.5 billion population of our country requires high-tech crop production programs.

In short, we are living in an era when :
    • Cultivable land is limited
    • Irrigation water is insufficient
    • Energy availability is limited
    • Human Labour for Agriculture is scarce

Agriculture production at the existing levels of productivity per unit land, water and energy is woefully inadequate to meet the demand for food, feed and energy (bio fuel).

Table 1. Projected demand for food grain and the Irrigation cover required for the same.
  Projected Foodgrain Demand and Irrigated Crop Area
  Unit 2010 2025 2050
Food grain demand million tones 247 320 494
Net cultivated area million ha 143 144 145
Total cropped area m ha 193 204 232
Total irrigated crop area m ha 79 98 146
Ministry of Agriculture, GOI

Another factor is the acute attrition of people from agriculture activities, occurring presently. Cropping is no longer an interesting vocation to keep the young people in the farm. The introduction of hightech technologies associated with possible mechanisation of cultural operations is a solution to this problem. These by itself may not stop antiagriculture migration of the population. One needs to look at farming as an enterprise, and the farmer an entrepreneur running a profitable business. Promotion of drudgery saving and profit generating technologies will become essential in this scenario.

Individual cases of high-tech interventions

The following are actual cases where high- tech cultivation practises were introduced after considerable R&D and field level demonstrations by Jain Irrigation Company. These technologies are taken up by farmers from different parts of the country whole heartedly. Some among them have become entrepreneurs themselves.

Banana

The objective is enhancing the productivity of Banana through Tissue Culture technology.

Banana (Musa paradisiaca) is one of the most important staple food crop for millions of people in developing countries. It is a parthenocarpic fruit and therefore renders them sterile and unable to produce viable seeds. Owing to this condition, there is no other option except to resort to vegetative method of propagation using suckers, which is commonly known as “corm”. The major disadvantages of using suckers for vegetative propagation, is the lower yields, longer crop duration (14-15 months for one crop), carry- over of disease and pests etc. To overcome these constraints in-vitro micro-propagation of banana under stringently controlled aseptic conditions in the laboratory is the most ideal way to produce high quality planting material.

As far as tissue culture technique is concerned, the key issues relate to adoption of a very precise protocol for the micro-propagation of banana, followed by primary and secondary hardening that it renders the tissueraised plants to perform well in the field adapting to the local soil and climatic conditions. This is perhaps the most important criteria for developing disease-free and true-to-type plantlets with higher farm yields and excellent quality that can be accepted world-wide (Vasane and Kothari, 2009)

Of all the varieties tested, Grand Nain (belonging to the dwarf Cavendish group) proved to be the most suitable one. This introduced variety, owing to its quality attributes, was found to be ideal both for processing as well as for fresh fruit export.

An R&D project was set in motion for developing and standardizing the technology for production of high quality Tissue Culture planting material and testing and developing an appropriate cultivation technology.

In Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, banana is grown over an area of approximately 48,000 ha. and is therefore aptly termed as the ‘Banana Bowl of India’. This district produces approximately 76% and 18% of Maharashtra’s and India’s banana production, respectively. The area suffered low yields of banana due to poor quality planting materail, uneven and off- type suckers and high incidence of virus diseases. Therefore, the main objective of the project was to transform Jalgaon district’s productivity to a higher level.

Outcome of the field trials showed 1.8 m x 1.5 m spacing to be the best, employing drip irrigation and fertigation practices, besides choosing Grand Nain as the best variety.

Acceptance by Banana Growers

The Tissue cultured banana plants and the package for cultivation have received an overwhelming response from the farms not only in Jalgaon district, but from different states of India as well. It is reflected in the ever increasing demand which is currently estimated to be 60 million.

The various components of the high-tech package were :
   • Elite uniform virus free planting material
   • Intervention in land preparation, crop geometry
   • Introduction of drip and fertigation technologies
   • Interventions in crop management till harvest and packing
   • A precise sucker management technology and opportunity for ratoon
   • Assistance in PHM and technical support for packing house ripening facilities
   • Training and guidance to farmers.
   • Introduction of banana puree technology in commercial scale for value addition.

Table 2. Key differences between traditional sucker planting vs elite TC banana plants
Traditional Sucker planting Elite Tissue Culture Banana plants
Haphazard Planting Defined Crop Geometry
Flood Irrigation Drip Irrigation
Broadcasting Solid Fertilizers Fertigation
Yield per plant is 13-15 kgs Yield per plant is minimum of 30 kgs.
High disease incidence Low disease incidence
Long gestation crop period Short gestation crop period

Performance

Hi-tech farming also generates employment opportunities in the villages as it needs large number of farm hands for harvesting, loading, transport, unloading etc. Employment is generated for agriculture technicians who assist the farmers in maintaining their equipments/ gadgets/systems of irrigation and fertigation stations etc.

Economic impact of TC Banana cultivation among rural farmers

The Tissue Culture plants that we give have consistently provided better yields to the farmers, from a banana bunch of 15 kgs (with conventional planting material) to almost 25 kgs on an average (with tissue culture planting material). This has improved not just the overall yields but has reduced the growing period giving farmers higher returns in a shorter period of time. With the high quality tissue cultured plants farmers they are able to harvest 3 crops in a period of 30 months as compared to only two crops in with conventional sucker planting in same period.

Drip irrigation and fertigation augments the yield increment. Some control can be exercised on maturity period affording advancing/ postponing harvesting to fetch good prices in the market. Banana processing adds value to the Banana fruit produced by farmer.

Tissue culture plants increased productivity to two and half times with than the sucker planting material. Total revenue generation and net profit from one planting cycle (i.e. 30 month) has gone to Rs 3.06 and 1.80 lakh per acre, respectively as compared to Rs 1.25 and 0.52 lacs per acre, respectively in conventional cultivation.

Mango

India produces world’s highest tonnage of mango (13.73million tones from an area of 2.15 million ha) with an average productivity of 6377 kg/ ha. Mango, so far has been grown either as a crop with least management efforts and without inputs like irrigation, fertilizer etc. Therefore the productivity is low rendering it un-remunerative. Mango cultivation can be revolutionized by the adoption of Ultra High Density Plantation (UHDP) and associated practices. Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd (JISL) heralds a new era where mango becomes a quick, high, stable yielding, sustainable cash crop. With increased demand of mango, shrinking land availability, increasing the productivity per unit area is imperative. Besides, effective utilization of natural resources like water, nutrients, fuel, etc. is also important. Hi-tech cultivation techniques like UHDP combined with micro irrigation, fertigation, crop regulation, proper training and pruning may play important role in achieving these objectives. JISL has established commercial UHDP orchards in its R&D farms and their performance have been found to be very promising. There is immense scope to increase the productivity to 5-12 t/ac depending on varieties by using UHDP and other improved agro-techniques.

Mango tree is believed to have evolved as a canopy layer species in the tropical rainforest of south and south-east Asia. Mature specimens can attain a height of 30m and can survive for more than 100 years. The root system consists of a long, vigorous taproot and abundant surface feeder roots. Both male and perfect flowers are found within a single inflorescence; the pistil aborts in male flowers. The ratio of male to perfect flowers is strongly influenced by genetic, environmental and cultural factors. Flowers are cross-pollinated by flies and honey bees. Mango is well adapted to tropical and subtropical climates. Though Mango can grow up to 1400 m altitude, commercial mango orchards are raised at places upto 600m altitude. Its growth and fruiting are influenced by temperature, rainfall, wind velocity and altitude. Annual mean temperature ranging from 21 to 27°C is ideal for successful crop, though it can grow in a temperature range of 5 to 44°C. Higher temperature at fruit development enhances fruit size and quality. Mango can perform well in areas with average annual rainfall of 250 to 2500 mm. However, frequent rains and high humidity will result in incidence of pests and diseases.

Cultivation Practices for UHDP

Mango can be grown in a wide range of soils except clayey or extremely sandy or rocky calcareous, alkaline or water logged soils. It prefers a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5. For successful establishment of orchard, soil depth of 2.0 to 2.5 m is required. Soil amendments may be used to correct the soil to get required pH. Soil test is prerequisite for deciding quantity of soil amendment.

Mango varieties

Field experimentation in Jain R&D farm were conducted with Alphonso, Ranta and Sindhu and several other varieties of South and Central India. Based on our experience and various scientific reports, we believe that the most varieties in India can be grown successfully under UHDP. As the Cultivation practices are very intensive, we prefer to recommend high value varieties.

Table 3. Mango varieties suitable for UHDP
States Varieties
Andhra Pradesh Alphonso, Alampur Baneshan, Banganapalli, Totapuri (Bangalora), Mallika
Bihar Bombai, Himsagar, Langra, Chausa
Goa Fernandin, Mankurad
Gujarat Alphonso, Kesar
Karnataka Alphonso, Bangalora, Neelum, Mallika
Madhya Pradesh Alphonso, Kesar, Ratna
Tamil Nadu Alphonso, Banganapalli, Imampasand, Totapuri (Bangalora), Neelum
Uttar Pradesh Bombay Green, Dashehari, Langra, LucknowSafeda, Mallika, Chausa

Under UHDP, Mango is planted at 3m x 2m which accommodates 674 plants per acre. Pits should be marked at 3m x 2m before pit digging and pits of l x l x l m are to be dug at marked places.Alternatively one meter deep and one meter wide trench can be prepared at every three meter. The pits should be allowed to wither for some weeks before filling with mixture of planting media. The media consists of 40-50 kg native soil, 0.5-1.0 kg Single Super Phosphate (SSP), 0.25 kg neem cake, 20 kg compost or 10 kg vermi-compost and 10-15g of Thimet or 20g Furadon. Plantations are to be raised by using grafted saplings. Plants must be procured well before planting. While planting, soil around each graft should be pressed well.

Epicotyl grafts are recommended for UHDP as the training of the tree starts at a very early stage itself.The ball of earth around the base of the graft should be retained intact and the graft joint should remain just above the ground level.

Drip irrigation should commence after planting. The newly planted grafts are to be supported by a bamboo stick to avoid damage by wind. Similarly these are protected from desiccating winds by shade crops like sunhempraised around the sapling and which can be cut and used as a mulch later.

The critical components of UHDP technology is the management of inputs: irrigation water and fertilizer and besides the canopy management. These two inputs are provided through drip irrigation system. In several states in India, mango is not considered as an irrigated crop. In the event that UHDP gets acceptance from Indian mango growers in order to enhance productivity and income it is imperative that they should adopt drip irrigation. By adopting the recommended practices, the farmer would be changing from subsistence level to a cash crop situation. But to achieve this he should adopt the technology wholly and not in parts.

Table 4. Crop water requirement of Mango planted at 3 x 2 m crop geometry
Month Evaporation,
mm
Water Requirement Lt/plant/day
1st yr 2nd yr 3rd yr 4th yr onwards
Jan 2.87 - 40.60 0.5 - 0.75 2.0 - 2.6 4.0 - 5.8 7.0 - 10.3
Feb 3.38 - 5.90 0.75 - 1.0 2.5 - 4.1 6.0 - 9.3 10.0 - 16.5
March 3.79 - 7.29 0.75 - 1.3 3.0 - 5.3 6.5 - 12.0 11.5 - 16.4
April 6.69 - 8.38 1.3 - 1.5 5.0 - 6.5 11.3 - 14.0 20.0 - 25.0
May 7.54 - 9.32 1.5 - 2.0 5.8 - 7.0 13.0 - 16.0 23.1 - 28.0
June 5.97 - 7.45 1.0 - 1.2 3.5 - 4.5 7.5 - 10.0 13.0 - 23.1
July 4.24 - 7.47 0.5 - 1.2 2.0 - 4.8 4.5 - 10.7 8.0 - 19.0
Aug 3.22 - 7.84 0.5 - 1.2 1.5 - 4.8 3.5 - 10.8 6.0 - 19.2
Sept 3.57 - 7.78 0.5 - 0.6 1.0 - 2.2 2.5 - 4.9 4.0 - 8.7
Oct 4.42 - 7.47 0.4 - 0.5 1.5 - 2.0 2.2 - 3.0 3.9 - 5.0
Nov 3.48 - 3.84 0.4 - 0.5 1.6 - 2.0 3.5 - 4.0 6.2 - 6.5
Dec 3.15 - 3.90 0.4 - 0.5 1.5 - 1.6 3.5 - 3.6 6.0 - 6.5
Average 4.65 - 6.02 0.8 - 1.0 2.8 - 3.3 6.3 - 7.5 10.8 - 13.3
Crop water requirement will vary according to the location. The table serves only as indicative.

For the bearing trees (3rd year onwards) irrigation has to be given at survival level during 3rd week of September to October to induce flowering (stress period). The rainfall events are very erratic and therefore not adjusted on a daily basis. The general recommendation is that if rain fall exceeds 10mm in any one day, suspend drip irrigation for the next 2 days.

The online drip system is found to be more suitable for Mango. The drip laterals are spaced at the relevant row spacing. Each tree is provided with one dripper of 4lph during initial two years and 2 drippers of 4lph from 3rd year. When 2 drippers are installed they should be placed 45cm away from the trunk.

Application of fertilizer

The recommended fertilizer dose for UHDP Mango in soils having medium nutrient content is given below. Estimation of fertilizer requirement should be based on soil analysis.

Fertigation Schedule and Quantity (kg/dose/acre)
Age Month Number of Doses Urea H3PO4 MOP MgSO4
1 yr July-Sept 12 1.4 0.5 0.8 0.000
  Jan-May 20 1.7 0.6 0.9 0.000
2 yr July-Sept
12 2.7 1.2 2.3 0.278
  Jan-May 20 1.6 0.7 1.4 0.167
3 yr 15 June-Aug 12 4.5 2.3 3.5 0.555
  Sept 4 1.4 1.2 3.1 0.000
  Jan-May 20 3.2 1.2 1.5 0.333
4 yr onwards 15 June-Aug 12 7.2 3.5 4.6 0.833
  Sept 4 2.2 1.7 4.2 0.000
  Jan-March 12 5.1 1.7 3.2 0.833

   If phosphorus has to be given as solid fertilizer like SSP it can be given in two equal split doses along with organic manure.

   If chloride injury is found or if the water contains high chloride then MOP should be replaced by Potassium nitrate or sulphate.

Training and Pruning

When the plant height reaches 45-60 cm the terminal bud should be pinched at 5-6 cm below the apex to encourage growth of auxiliary buds. After the growth from auxiliary buds 2-3 vigorous shoots are to be retained in different directions at 15-20cm interval which will develop as primary branches.

After 4-6 months growth of primary branches, they should be headed back at 45-60cm length to allow further growth of 4-5 secondary shoots on each branch, which in turn will form tertiary shoots in due course. Ultimately the treewill present a dome shaped hedge.

Pruning is very essential and critical operation of UHDP to maintain fruiting shoots and contain the canopy. Pruning must be completed as soon as possible after harvest preferably before 15th June in Central and Southern India. Tertiary branches have to be headed back in such a way that the plant height can be maintained at 1.5 m and having 10-15 tertiary shoots. Excess tertiary shoots have to be thinned out to avoid overcrowding. Cut ends to be applied with Bordeaux paste or 2% Copper Oxychloride (COC) suspension. About one month after pruning thinning of newly emerged shoots is essential to avoid excess shoots and overcrowding. On each tertiary shoots 3-4 new shoots are to be maintained. Dried panicle along with 2-3 leaves and dried shoots/ branches must be removed at the time of pruning.

Crop Regulation

Some varieties of mango is prone to alternate bearing. However bearing can be regulated by UHDP management combined with pruning and chemical treatments. In recent years, application of Paclobutrazol (PBZ) has shown positive response. PBZ should be applied from the third year onwards, in the month of September (in Central & South India) or October (in North India).

Rejuvenation Pruning and Top Working

By rejuvenation, we can improve productivity of old orchards. Combined with top working, improved or new variety can be grafted in existing trees. During this operation an existing conventional orchard can be converted to UHDP by planting additional saplings. The old and nonproductive branches are cut at the base or the origin. Leave one branch to allow for survival growth and cut all other branches at the point of origin. This is best done after the fruiting season (in central and southern part of India) or at the end of winter (in northern India) which will allow for sprouting after 30-45 days. Apply COC paste on the cut surface to prevent fungal entry into the trunk. Drip irrigate as per schedule. Rejuvenation and top working will make the old tree juvenile again and help in canopy management of the orchard. Once top working is practiced, inter cropping can once again be practiced in the orchard.

Benefits of UHDP and associated technologies
    • Increases productivity upto 2-3 times.
    • Reduces orchard gestation period to three years as compared to conventional orchards (7-9 years)
    • Makes orchard crops as profitable as other cash crops
    • Reduces water use for irrigation upto 50%
    • Increased fertilizer uptake by plants when fertigation is practiced.
    • Suitable for small, medium and semi-large farmers as its management intensive and
      yields good quality fruits which can get better market price.
    • It makes sensible bankable project to offer financial support due to assured high early returns.

Table 6. Advantages of Ultra high density (UHDP) Mango planting
Particulars Planting Type
  Traditional
(40 trees /ac)
Medium Density
(200 trees/ac)
Ultra HighDensity
(674 trees/ac)
Gestation Period (years) 10-12 5 3
Duration to reach full potential (Years) 15 8 6
Yield potential Medium High Very High
Orchard management activities : Pruning Very difficult Manageable Easy
Spray operation difficult Manageable Easy
Spray efficiency Very low Fairly high High
Harvest Very difficult Possible Very easy
Control on fruit quality Impossible Possible Easy
Expected yield at maturity (t/ac)      
  1. High volume varieties 4-5 7-8 10-12
  2. Low volume varieties 1.5-2.0 2-3 4-5
Expected income/yr ( lakh Rs/ac)      
  1. High volume varieties (@Rs 8/kg) 0.32-0.40 0.56-0.64 0.80-0.96
  2. Low volume varieties (@Rs15/kg) 0.23-0.30 0.0.3-0.45 0.6-0.75
Commercial orchard life (years) Up to 50 30-35 20.25

The cost of setting up an UHDP plantation is Rs 80,000.00/ac as against 50,000.00/ac for traditional (40 trees/ac) and 60,000.00 /ac (200 trees/ac) and the yearly recurring expense comes to Rs 30,000.00/ac in the UHDP (Soman, 2009). The actual yields harvested in UHDP in year 4 and 5 are highly indicative of the projections above; a high volume variety like Ratna yielded 8.4 and 9.0 tones/ac and a low volume cultivar, Alphonso yielded 1.7 and 2.4 tones/ac.

Conversion of conventional garden into UHD plantation
   • Top work the existing old trees. Allow regrowth in a controlled canopy fashion.
   • Plant new saplings in the inter row and intra-row space to get a final spacing of 3 m x 2 m.
   • Train and prune the trees old and new as per a schedule.
   • Provide drip fertigation to all the trees.

High-tech components in Mango cultivation
   • Quality planting material –epicotyl grafts
   • Changing Crop geometry and population
   • Training of tree at very early stage to enforce a tree architecture
   • Intensive pruning after harvest to contain the canopy to 1.5 m height every year
   • Drip irrigation and fertigation
   • Enforcing a stress period
   • Hormone application to convert alternate year bearing to annual bearing.
   • Fruit pruning to maintain optimum fruits per tree
   • Hand harvest for quality assurance
   • PHM guidelines
   • Value addition opportunity by pulping/diceing.

Onion

Onion is one of the important vegetable crops grown in India. In terms of area, India ranks first in the world with over 480,000 ha. Globally, the country occupies the second position after China in onion production with a production share of around 14 %. Productivity, however, at around 13 tones/ha, is much lower than the world average of 17.3 tones/ha.

Onion is produced in several states in India, with Maharashtra being the leading producer accounting for about one-fourth of the country’s onion production. India largely produces red onions used as fresh produce in the domestic market. White onions (used for dehydration) are grown on commercial scale only in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat and that too only in a few districts. Red onions are not suitable for dehydration mostly due to low solids, low pungency levels and high reducing sugars. The local white varieties available in the country are low in solids < 12.5% TSS, prone to premature bolting during Rabi (30-40% bolting) and hence not suitable for dehydration.

Onions for processing focus on high yields and other desirable processing characteristics such as high total soluble solids content, snowwhite colour, narrow stem-base, bolt resistance during bulb crop etc. The woody stem of the stalk of the umbel reduces the quality of the dehydrated product. Thus the company has to take up focused R&D to breed for High TSS and bolting resistant white onion.

During 1996 about 45 cultivars of short-day onion from different parts of the World were introduced and evaluated for their yield potential, soluble solids content and processing attributes.

Seed production

Cultivar JV12, was selected for further detailed investigation. Extensive trials were carried out during the subsequent four year period on water, fertilizer, disease and pest management of JV 12 variety. Based on the results, a package of agronomic practices was standardized. The R&D team then went ahead to produce the seeds of this variety within the country under our own conditions and management. Quality seeds of the elite selection JV12 are being produced on commercial scale since 2000 in Himachal Pradesh to get cool short day periods.

High-tech precision farming practices

The introduction of hi-tech precision farming technology in onion cultivation is a great success. The company was successful in revolutionizing the farming practices with an objective of ensuring supply of quality produce. The high tech practices were introduced in 2001-02 with the principal objective to enhance productivity and uniformity with better agronomical practices and also to improve the quality of onion bulbs (Balasubramanyam et al., 1999).

Under contract farming, the high-yielding onion seeds are distributed to the registered growers and the seeds are sown and transplanted in the farmers’ field by the farmers using their own resources. Company’s R&D, extension wing help the cultivators from time to time through frequent field-visits, guidance and input supplies.

An important feature of the planting material provided by the company is the high germination of 80-85%.

Availability of Production Technology, Equipments and their Adoption

A prescribed set of practices was adopted by the contract farmers, specifying the fertilizer requirements and spraying time. Also, they have educated farmers about cropping patterns. Earlier farmers in the region were largely cotton growers. After working with the company, they have shifted to rotation with legumes. Two key advantages from growing legumes is nitrogen fixation which helps to enhance soil fertility. Also, legume cycle is shorter than cotton and more appropriate for planting onions. The farmers feel that overall, they are benefited from the legume, onion rotation. The overall benefits of soil fertility and income are higher in legume – onion crop rotation. The productivity for the farmers working with the package were between 10 tones to 14 tones/acre (average productivity 12 tones/acre), whereas the average productivity in case of traditional production is around 5-7 tones/acre.

An important aspect of technology is that the farmers working with JISL are using drip irrigation. Use of micro-irrigation technology enables higher productivity by ensuring adequate availability of water. In the long run, the farmers are using much less water than the traditional flood irrigation approach, which is better for the environment, as well as ensures lower cost and higher productivity for the farmer. If the farmers cannot pay for irrigation upfront, the company either arranges a loan for them, or provides drip irrigation on credit, for which the cost is deducted from sale of onions.

Success stories and impact of extension activities in onion

The focus was to achieve higher farm yields by providing optimum inputs; i.e “more from less” concept. The technology package helped in transforming the lives of many onion farmers in and around Jalgaon in particular by way of the unique contract farming activity which has now become a revolution. The contract farming has now spread like wild fire among the farming community because of the company’s Minimum Guaranteed Price (MGP) concept which insulates the farmer’s earnings from fluctuating market prices.

Farmer Earnings

The gross margin for the farmers working with the technology package and selling for processing is much higher than the margins for farmers selling to the traditional market.The cost of production (variable cost) for farmers working with the high tech practises is Rs. 17,800 per acre, whereas the same is Rs. 11,800 per acre for the farmers following traditional practises and selling to the traditional market. The main difference is due to the higher costs for irrigation system and associated water costs.

There is however, a significant difference in the productivity levels of both the groups. While the average productivity of the farmers selling to the traditional market is app. 7 tones/acre, it is almost twice at 12 tones/acre for the contract farmers with drip irrigation.

Onion is a staple commodity in India and the price varies significantly given the market conditions. Often times, because of market glut, the prices crash to very low levels, for instance, as low price as Rs. 1.50/kg. The pricing policy is such that on the lower side, the company has fixed a Minimum Guaranteed Price (MGP) of Rs. 3.00/ kg for its contract growers, while on the higher side, the prices are linked to the market price. The MGP of Rs. 3.00/kg is the break even cost calculated based on all costs including fixed costs. If the market price falls below that minimum level, the contract growers get the MGP. Based on the yield and prices, the value of production in case of contract farmers is in the range of Rs. 36,000 to Rs. 84,000/acre whereas the same is in the range of Rs. 14,000 to Rs. 49,000/acre for farmers selling to the traditional market. Owing to the higher productivity and higher the minimum price support, the margin for high tech farmers is in the range of Rs. 18,200 to Rs. 66,200 per acre. In case of farmers selling to the traditional market, the margin is in the range of Rs. 2,200 to Rs. 37,200. In the case of farmers selling their produce to the open market, other overheads such as gunny bags, commission for agents, labor charges, and market fee and handling charges, all amounts to 10 % and eventually the margin is only between Rs. 1,980 to Rs. 33,480 (Punjabi, 2008).

Evidently, JISL contract farmers have higher profits per acre. Further, since the minimum price is announced ahead of the planting season, they know the value of their output before production and hence can invest in inputs required for higher productivity. If the farmer do not know what price he will get at the end of the season, there is hesitation to investment in inputs, which further reduces earnings by low productivity.

The High tech components in Onion production
   • High quality seed with high germination percentage
   • Soil surface management – bed and furrow
   • Change in crop geometry and plant population
   • Drip irrigation and fertigation
   • Pest and disease monitoring by qualified extension workers
   • Timely pest management
   • Association of farmers with a Processor
   • Processor assuring an MGP and supporting farmers
   • Harvest and Post Harvest management under technical supervision
   • Technical support for rotation crop – selection and cultivation

Summary

High tech interventions begin with acute desire and demand for high productivity and profit from agricultural activity. High tech cultivation implies judicious use of space, time and inputs; nothing more and nothing less. It is interesting to note that the different components that were listed in each case above are known to scientists and extension workers and to a lesser extent to farmers also. Piecing them together to formulate a practise is the novel thing.

These high tech interventions are introduced to other crops- a host of vegetables, fruits like Pomegranate, Cashew and Guava, and agricultural crops like, Cotton, Pulses, Sugarcane, and even cereals like, Maize, Wheat and Rice.

Another important aspect of such interventions is that only if concomitant interventions in marketing of produce are made, the whole exercise would bring profit to the farmers.

References

Balasubramanyam V.R., Dhake, A.V. and Moitra P. (1999). Improvement of onion cultivation. Agro India, February:24-27 IWMI, International Water Management Institute (2009). Revitalising Asia’s irrigation: To sustainably meet tomorrow’s food needs. IWMI, Sri Lanka. Punjabi, M. (2008). Supply chain for exports of dehydrated onion: case study of Jain irrigation systems in India. FAO, New Delhi. Soman, P. (2009). Ultra high density plantation in mango-A rewarding experiment. Paper presented at a National seminar “Recent improvements in cultivation of Mango”, Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Periyakualm Campus. Soman, P. and Narayanan, S. (2010). Role of micro irrigation in enhancing crop productivity-An industry perspective. (In) Micro-irrigation, Economics and Outreach; International Water management Institute, Hyderabad and Agricultural Economics Research Association, New Delhi 110002; pp 285-294. Vasane, S.R. and Kothari, R.M. (2009). An integrated biotech approach to sustainable cultivation of banana var. Grand nain. (In) A Textbook of molecular biotechnology (Eds. Chauhan A.K. and Ajit Varma) I.K. International Publishing House Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, pp. 507-541.

 

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