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Intercropping in coconut plantations

COCONUT BEING a tall palm, with unbranched trunk and compact terminal crown of leaves, allows remunerative raising of intercrops which is virtually impossible with many other perennial tree crops.

Planted at a wide spacing of 8m or more between palms the unutilised soil resources and understorey sunlight in plantations can be used by judicious selection of compatible intercrops.

Selection of intercrops should be based on the age and canopy size of palms. Young plantations upto 3-4 years due to their sparseness provide ample space for intercrops for young plantations is on choosing crops which do not adversely affect the growth of young palms. Tree crops are not preferred as intercrops in young plantations as the persistent competition for sunlight and soil resources would led to retarded growth of the palms. Leguminous crops such as groundnut, cowpea and blackgram form a good option on account of their soil enrichment through biological nitrogen fixation.

Cereals such as rice, maize and as fodder grasses are worthy of consideration. Crops like banana with robust aerial growth should be avoided by all means due to the likely intense shading of young palms.

In general plantations with palms of 8-25 years age are not suitable for intercropping of any sort because the canopy of palms is large to completely cover the ground and the height of the palms is not yet sufficient to create understorey light environment congenial for intercropping.

In mature plantations above the age of 25 years sufficient sunlight enters the understorey to make conditions conducive for intercropping. Apart from legumes, cereals and fodder grasses several annual crops can be profitably grown in mature plantations.

Tuber crops such as tapioca, sweet potato, yams and colocasia when intercropped adequate manuring should be done to compensate for the high level of soil nutrient removal by such crops. Colocasia is an especially attractive option in view of the shade tolerant nature of the crop.

Banana is a compatible intercrop for mature plantations and many turn to be highly rewarding if varieties such as robusta and njalipoovan which can withstand shade are chosen.

Underplanting mature plantations with a tree crop like cocoa, nutmeg, cinnamon or clove with relatively short stature and compact growth habit is a common practice. Cocoa being a shade loving crop is the best among them.

Several viable multiple cropping patterns have been suggested for mature coconut plantations. In several of them, black pepper is a component crop. Rooted pepper cuttings planted about 1.5m away from the trunk of the trees are initially trained on temporary stakes for 1-2 years.

When the vines attain sufficient length to reach the tree trunks temporary stakes are removed and vines are tied to the tree trunks and trained on them. Most of the above mentioned annual crops are suggested as suitable intercrops for coconut-pepper plantations. However, banana is not recommended as an intercrops for coconut-pepper plantations due to its obvious adverse effect on the performance of pepper.

Better land we, efficient use of water and soil resources, solar energy harvesting and enhanced returns are highlighted as the advantages of intercropping in coconut plantations.

But judicious selection of compatible intercrops, proper manuring and adoption of scientific intercrop management practices are absolutely essential for reaping handsome benefits out of it.

Sunny K. Oommen

Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics

College of Agriculture, Vellayani

Thiruvanthapuram-695522, Kerala

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