Sugar is a significant commodity of trade and livelihood in India, and the sugar industry plays a vital role in the agricultural economy. As the country's second largest agro-based business,topped only by cotton, the industry is now a critical cog in India's rural development. It has a massive direct and indirect impact on the livelihoods of over 5 crore farmers and their dependents who cultivate sugarcane on an area of nearly 50 lakh hectares.
It is the principal source of sugar and associated products, as well as non-food commodities such as paper and textiles, and is primarily grown in tropical and subtropical countries. India is called the homeland of sugar because sugarcane production and use have also been practiced in the country since ancient times.
Challenges faced by Sugarcane farmers:
Even though sugar is the agricultural industry's star performer, sugarcane producers confront considerable hurdles due to, pests, stagnant production, water scarcity, and an unstable sugarcane market.
Tips to boost sugarcane production:
Soil fertility management:
Soil fertility management is used to maximize the use of nutrients while improving crop productivity. Sugarcane soils become less fertile and fail to provide larger yields due to the considerable depletion of soil nutrients. Hence, soil management through nutrient replenishment by adding fertilizers and manures to the soil can maximize sugarcane yield and is indispensable for a good harvest.
Sugarcane is a water-demanding crop, and water scarcity is the single largest factor affecting its production. According to studies, under drought conditions, sugarcane yields suffer poorly and can decrease by up to 70%. Water scarcity during the peak growth stage reduces both the total yield and the sucrose yield. With climate change, the water scarcity issue has become more prominent. At the same time, excess irrigation can result in damaged roots, nutrient leaching, and various deficiencies, which in turn reduce yield and quality.
To reduce yield losses, proper irrigation and nutrition management is essential. This includes ensuring that the plants receive the appropriate amount of water at the appropriate time, as well as enough drainage to prevent water logging.
Sugarcane yield is strongly dependent on temperature, solar radiation, and soil conditions. Most of these factors are beyond the farmer's control. This is where drip irrigation comes into play. In this type of irrigation, every drop of water and nutrients go straight to the crop at the right time, resulting in a higher amount and quality of yield in addition to higher sucrose content and extended plant longevity. It is sustainable and through automation, the farmer can monitor, irrigate and access all the information associated with their field. Regardless of their location, they can ensure higher sugarcane yield, better yield quality, higher profits, and reduced labor costs.
Selection of variety:
In sugarcane farming, varietal selection plays a significant role. This selection has long-term implications and determines how profitable the yield will be. The key factors to focus on while choosing a sugarcane variety are yield potential, disease and insect resistance, and temperature tolerance.
Various environmentally friendly agricultural strategies can be employed to maximize sugarcane output while minimizing environmental effects. Among these practices are:
Growing a new type of plant among sugarcane plants, usually in the area between rows, is known as "intercropping." The intercropping system is helpful to the soil. This technique promotes organic carbon, total nitrogen, and soil enzyme activity, resulting in a higher yield and greater revenues from the second crop.
Pests and disease management:
Pests and diseases can severely damage sugarcane plants and reduce yield. Using integrated pest management (IPM) methods can help with pest and disease outbreak prevention and control. Integrated pest management is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly strategy for pest control that employs a combination of all existing pest control technologies, including cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical methods. When compared to pesticides alone, this eco-friendly strategy reduces the possibility of unintended pesticide exposure and delivers greater long-term control.
Precision Agriculture & Drone technology:
Precision agriculture, despite being a relatively new technique, has proven to be quite effective. Precision agriculture is the epitome of getting more done with less. It enables the farmer to reduce labour expenses in sugarcane farming by utilizing technologies such as GPS, variable-rate fertilizer application, remote sensing, and yield monitoring. This environmentally friendly farming approach promotes agricultural productivity, minimizes soil deterioration, improves harvest quality and quantity, and lowers labour and production costs.
When a field grows only one type of crop each year, the soil is depleted of vital nutrients for that crop type. Because different crops require different nutrients, crop rotation allows for the uptake of important nutrients from year to year based on the type of crop planted. Crop rotation can also help minimise pest and disease pressure, improve soil health, and boost production.
Investing in a mechanical harvester has been proven to be much more efficient and profitable than manual harvesting. Furthermore, a mechanised harvester harvests your sugarcane crop in less time than manual labour, increasing farm productivity. In addition to that, it is quite cost-effective.
Sugarcane is the world's main producer of sucrose. The fact that it is a "thirsty" crop presents one of the main difficulties in sugarcane production. One kilogram of sugar requires 2000 kilograms of water. Therefore, when it comes to the production of sugar, sustainable practices are now essential.
In addition to increasing yields, sustainability in sugarcane farming prioritises safeguarding the environment, employee health, water and soil preservation, and the prosperity of neighbouring communities. This can help farmers establish a more sustainable and adaptive business that can meet the needs of current and future generations.