‘Farmers can achieve a yield of 80 tonnes an acre against the normal average of 40 to 45 tonnes using Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative method of cultivation’

After achieving significant success in promoting System of Rice Intensification in paddy, the Agriculture Department is seeking to popularise the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) method of cultivation in sugarcane.

Sugarcane growers, officials of the department say, can almost double their yield by adopting SSI method of cultivation, which requires less seeds and water in comparison to the conventional method. Farmers can easily achieve a yield of 80 tonnes an acre against the normal average of 40 to 45 tonnes, they say.

The department, which has taken up the promotion of the SSI in the district in a big way for the first time this year, hopes to cover at least 1,125 acres under the method. (Sugarcane is expected to be raised in about 13,750 acres in the district this year.) To achieve this objective, the department is offering subsidy to farmers for installing sub-surface drip irrigation systems and providing them Rs.10,000 worth of water-soluble fertilizers and other critical inputs free of cost an acre.

Explaining the salient features of the method of cultivation, Gururaj Singh, Joint Director of Agriculture, said SSI method of cultivation requires substantially lesser seedlings as single budded seedlings are used instead of the two/three budded sets used in conventional method. “Thirty-day old seedlings are planted in rows at a gap of five feet making it easier for farm mechanisation including the use of harvestors, which helps in bringing down the labour cost drastically,” he said.

Farmers are given a subsidy of Rs.44, 000 an acre for installing the sub-surface drip irrigation systems under the National Agriculture Development Programme.

“The system substantially brings down the consumption of water as the crop is irrigated through minute pores through the pipes that run under the soil. More importantly, water soluble fertilizers are delivered directly to the roots through the drip irrigation system,” said R.Chandrasekaran, Deputy Director (Central Schemes), Agriculture.

SSI provides the ideal solution for sugarcane growers who are faced within increasing cost of seeds and labour and other issues of soil fertility, officials said.

Subbiah, one of the three farmers who have taken to the SSI method of cultivation in about 30 acres at Koodapalli near Manachanallur, said he could operate the fully automated drip irrigation system remotely using his mobile to ensure proper irrigation of his 12-acre field.

“The motors of the borewells and the valves can be operated remotely. The exact time of the water supply would be set through the automated system so that wastage prevented,” he said.

More importantly, he could use harvestors as soon as getting the cutting order from the sugar factory.

“Otherwise, I will have to go in search of labourers. Not many farm hands are available these days and even if we are prepared to pay higher wages not many are willing to come for agricultural work,” he said.

A drip irrigation system for a five-acre field would cost about Rs.3.50 lakhs, according to a technician of a private company which has installed the system at Mr.Subbiah’s field.

However, it would be a long-term investment as the sub-surface system can be used for several years for successive crops, he added.

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