Demand for hybrid coconut seedlings is rising among the farmers of Thanjavur district. Catering to their needs are the hybrid coconut crossing centres, run by the Agriculture department, at Pattukottai and Marungapallam.

The two centres supply 42,000 quality hybrid coconut seedlings (tall X Dwarf variety) every year to the farmers. However, the process of producing seedlings is laborious, done manually every day at the two farms with coconut tree climbers pollinating female flowers.

According to P. Loganathan, Joint Director of Agriculture, and M. Ganesan, Assistant Director, Pattukottai division, climbers pollinate the female flowers by spraying the pollen grains on them from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day. Each climber is allotted 55 trees to climb up and pollinate. They are paid Rs. 100 per day.

At Pattukottai farm, where there are 275 trees for crossing purpose, five climbers work every day. At Marungapallam, where there are 385 trees for crossing purpose, seven climbers are employed.

As a first step, the climbers have to identify the trees in flowering stage. On the fourteenth day of flowering, climbers go up the tree and remove all the male flowers and cover them with cloth bags. Over the next three days, they climb constantly, identifying female flowers which secrete a distinct dew-like honey. The climbers then apply the collected pollen from dwarf trees on the female flowers of tall trees, which are the mother trees. And so tall X dwarf crossing is done. In the case of dwarf X tall, the dwarf trees are used as mother trees and pollen from tall trees is collected.

Sixty per cent of the crossed nuts which are viable are harvested. They are sent to a coconut nursery at Pattukottai. From these nuts quality hybrid seedlings are produced and supplied to farmers at the rate of Rs. 25 per Tall X dwarf seedling and Rs. 75 per Dwarf X Tall seedling.

Farmers prefer hybrid seedlings because of high yield, pest resistance, more quantity of copra production etc. One hybrid tree - Tall X Dwarf - will produce 150 to 180 nuts per tree per year. Nearly 140 grams to 165 grams of copra can be produced from one hybrid nut. In a year 21 kilos to 30 kilos of copra can be produced from a tree. Oil content in these nuts is 70 per cent. Tender coconuts usually have 300 to 350 milli litres of water per nut.

However, the climbers working in these farms demand that their wages be increased. “Rs. 100 per day is very meagre. This should be increased to Rs. 150 per day,” Anbarasan, D. Arivalagan, Murugaiyan - all climbers – said.