Every winter, an abundance of tomatoes drags their prices to as low as ₹1 a kg whereas in summer, a decline in crop yield jacks up the prices up to ₹80 a kg. This see-sawing causes much misery to both the farmer and the customer.
Anantapur-based Sri Krishnadevaraya College of Horticulture Sciences says it has found a solution to this problem with its “stress-and-disease tolerant” grafted tomato plants. It says this method allows farmers to extend cultivation time up to nine months with six pickings in between.
U. Jeevan, an assistant professor at the six-year-old unaided horticulture college affiliated to YSR Horticulture University, says farmers of Anantapur and Chittoor districts bear the brunt in both the scenarios of abundance and water scarcity. “At times, they do not even recover input costs,” he adds.
On one of the colleges experimental plots dotting its 121 acres, tomato plants have been grafted on solanum torvum, a bushy, erect and spiny perennial plant used horticulturally as a rootstock for eggplant. The grafted plants grow vigorously and tolerate diseases and water stress.
“We use grafting clips for five days and then let the plant grow for 45 days for the union to take place in port trays, which helps in re-transplanting them at desired locations. These plants can withstand temperatures of 44 degree Celsius,” says Mr. Jeevan.
A native variety of tomato plant gives 4-6 kg of fruits in three pickings in its lifetime of 3-4 months, whereas the SKCHS variety gives 8-10 kg of tomatoes during its life time of nine months. While the native variety has thinner peel, the grafted variety has a thicker outer skin, which gives it a longer shelf life and makes transportation to farther regions or export easier, according to Mr. Jeevan.
While nutritional values and taste remains the same, the grafted variety requires less water and lower input cost (in the form of pesticides and others) an acre.
The college’s associate dean N. Narayana Reddy, who transformed Anantapur horticulture sector in 2003 while working with Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), says he has planned several crops that suit the region and encourages faculty members and students to experiment with newer technologies and varieties.