The government is launching a plant nutrient management plan covering agro-ecosystems in the State next week.

The project envisages analysing of 2.30 lakh soil samples from 999 panchayats and preparation of nutrient management plans for all the panchayats. In addition, the production potential of major crops in 23 agro-ecological zones of the State will be analysed by a team of agronomists. Farmers would then be issued nutrient advisory cards free of charge.

The Department of Agriculture is implementing the project with the support of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes, Kerala Agriculture University (KAU), Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Centre for Earth Sciences Studies (CESS) and Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala (IIITM-K), under the leadership of National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, Bangalore. The project is coordinated by the Kerala State Planning Board.

The department has sanctioned Rs.612.10 lakh for analysing the soil samples. The project will be completed over two years with the support of 27 laboratories, including 11 laboratories of the department, nine laboratories of KAU and five laboratories of ICAR.

The national bureau has already completed the delineation of all 14 districts into 23 agro-ecological zones based on climate and soil. All the panchayats, Corporations and municipalities were grouped under the 23 zones. Macro and micro nutrients in each zone will be analysed and nutrient management plan prepared for each zone and panchayat.

Separate zone-wise sampling strategy will be adopted towards ensuring sampling from different kinds of soils and cropping systems. Analysis of soils for macro, secondary and micro-nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur, boron, iron, manganese, copper and zinc) and soil reaction will be done in laboratories of the State and Central organisations. Application software will be developed by IIITM-K for data storage, management, automated interpretations and information dissemination to farmers.

The CESS will undertake spatial data processing using geographic information systems and prepare maps. The results of soil analysis and nutrient management plan would then be interpreted for the farmers, the project document said.

The project is expected to help in development of long-term strategy for realising the potential of each of the agro-ecological zones and focused developmental intervention. It will also help to improve the income of 2.30 lakh farmers through a scientific management of the soil, besides facilitating increased fund flow for soil resource management from the local self-governments.

Soil samples from agriculture holdings will be collected through the Nehru Yuva Kendra centres. One youth club in each panchayat will be identified by the Kendras and necessary training imparted on soil sample collection. The base maps of the panchayats generated by the CESS will also be given to the Kendras for soil sample collection. They will mark the wards in the map in consultation with the panchayats and soil samples will be collected from all wards covering all the major crops and cropping systems.

Farmers' plots will be selected for production potential study, based on focus group discussions involving various official agencies, non-governmental organisations, progressive farmers and chairman of panchayat development standing committees. From each agro-ecological zone, 10 best farmers will be selected. The best farmer managed plots will be studied and documented for potential of different crops such as rice, coconut, banana, pepper, ginger, coffee, cardamom and vegetables.