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Cropping Systems in Sugarcane

Crop production is harvesting of solar energy through crop plants. To maximize crop production in a given field, a major portion of the incident solar radiation has to be intercepted by an optimum leaf area throughout the year. This is not achieved in sole-cropping wherein the leaf area is sub-optimal in early growth and maturity phases. Besides this, in mono-cropping, that is, growing of the same crop year after year, usually there is long interval between the harvest of the crop in one year and planting of the crop in the subsequent year. During this long interval there is practically no leaf area to intercept the sunlight. Development and maintenance of an optimum leaf area throughout is feasible by combining crops in time and space utilizing the natural resources and applied inputs efficiently.

 

Sugarcane being a high biomass yielding long duration crop, exhausts large quantities of plant nutrients from the soil. Hence, raising of a good crop subsequently in the sugarcane field is not feasible without the addition of large quantities of plant nutrients through applied inputs like manures and fertilizers. When sugarcane is mono-cropped even with large quantities of applied inputs, as balance between removal and addition is not maintained in all nutrients, the soil gets depleted of some nutrients excessively. This leads to stunted growth of the crop, poor leaf area development and very low light interception and consequently the harvesting of solar energy is also very low. Combining crops with sugarcane in time and space helps in balanced use of both natural resources and applied inputs, facilitates development and maintenance of optimum leaf area throughout leading to maximum harvesting of solar energy and sustainable crop production. Sustainable agriculture involves successful management of resources for agriculture to satisfy changing human needs, while maintaining or enhancing the quality of the environment and conserving natural resources.

Cultivation of sugarcane in a sequence with other crops can minimize all the ill-effects observed in mono-cropping of sugarcane. First of all there can be better utilization of all the natural resources of crop production and the applied inputs. As the different crops in the sequence are provided with varying ecological conditions, more balance is maintained in removal and addition of all plant nutrients. Any excess amount of nutrients applied to one crop is utilized by the next crop coming in sequence. Similarly any excess removal of nutrients by a crop is compensated by a subsequent crop receiving a heavy dose of fertilizers. As sequential cropping increases diversity, harmful organisms such as insects, diseases and problem weeds do not perpetuate. Because of these reasons, there is the possibility of normal growth of all the crops in sequence, which facilitates production and maintenance of optimum leaf area throughout leading to better interception and fixation of solar energy.

Crops suitable for growing in sequence with sugarcane under tropical conditions are rice, banana, turmeric, groundnut, cowpea, black gram, green gram, soybean, daincha, sunn-hemp.

Studies on short duration sugarcane based cropping systems were conducted at Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore. In gardenland conditions, the 2-year crop sequence "short duration sugarcane - plant/first ratoon/finger millet/cotton" which produced 195.6 tonnes of cane, 3.83 tonnes of finger millet grain and 4.07 tonnes of seed cotton/ha was found to be better than the conventional 2-year crop sequence "normal duration sugarcane - plant/first ratoon" which produced 203.6 tonnes of cane alone. In wetland conditions, the 2-year crop sequence "short duration sugarcane - plant/first ratoon / rice / rice" which produced 196 tonnes of cane and 11.9 tonnes of rice grain was found to be better than the conventional 2-year crop sequence "normal duration sugarcane - plant/first ratoon" which produced 231 tonnes of cane alone.

The available information indicate that for sustainable agriculture in areas where sugarcane is a dominant crop, either a 3-year or 4-year crop sequence should be adopted. Of these, two years will be occupied by one plant plus one ratoon crop of sugarcane while in the remaining one or two years compatible crops could be grown in sequence with sugarcane. In garden-land conditions, crops like maize, finger millet, pulses, groundnut, sesame, sunflower, cotton etc. could be grown. In wetland conditions, crops like rice, turmeric, banana, groundnut and pulses would be ideal.

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