Ahead of sugarcane sowing next month, Punjab government is planning to ensure around 40 per cent area under one type of variety to make the crop more sustainable. This is being encouraged as some varieties, which are being sown for years, have become prone to certain specific diseases.
In Punjab there is around 95,000 hectares (2,34,650 acres) area under the cane crop out of which around 70 per cent area is under just one variety of the sugarcane crop and that is CO0238, which was introduced in the state in 2005. This variety has played a big role in boosting the income of the farmers because of its high yield and better quality which also results in a good recovery rate of the sugar cane which helps millers. But of late this variety has become quite prone to diseases and ‘Pokka Boeing’ disease attack. This disease attacks on the shoots of cane during rainy season when the height of the cane is already 7-8 feet and spray of medicine is not possible due to its height incurring losses to farmers.
To execute its plan in the coming three years, the government is now emphasising to increase area under new varieties including COPB 95, COPB 96, COPB 98, and CO118 etc. along with keeping 30 to 40 per cent area under CO20238 variety.
With these new varieties, which are mostly early maturing varieties, even the cane crushing season can be advanced by one month against the traditional timing of late November.
In Punjab, cane is planted in two seasons — autumn and spring — season and it is planted once in the four years as in first year new seed is planted and then next two years ratoon crop is used and then in fourth year new seed is planted. Ratoon crop or stubble crop is the part of cane left underground after harvesting and it gives rise to new crops as opposed to the plant crop.
In Punjab, sugar harvesting starts after November 20 and it goes till March as early, mid and late varieties are crushed in these months.
Cane Commissioner, Punjab, Dr Gurvinder Singh, told The Indian Express that CO0238 will also go simultaneously but area under it would be kept 30 to 40 per cent and similarly other varieties will also be sown on 25 to 30 per cent each for sustainability of sugarcane cultivation and in case of attack of any disease on the one variety other varieties remains safe.
He said that as per the plan new varieties of seeds would be prepared in the fields of selected sugarcane growers/ sugarcane nurseries across the state and distributed through sugar mills, which have a committed number of farmers who grow cane for the mill.
Naveen Sharma, a progressive sugarcane seed producer from village Bhoa under the Gurdaspur Cooperative Sugar Mill, is also preparing seeds.
“Using single bud technology, seeds provided by the research center and seed nurseries are being prepared by the farmers under the guidance of the cane department and the agricultural officers,” said the commissioner.
He also said that with autumn sowing farmers can do intercropping by sowing wheat crop, which is sown in November, in cane field as wheat is harvested in April and by that time Cane plant’s height is not much and it also boosts farmers’ income who can take two crops from one field.
Currently, farmers are taking yield of 350 to 400 quintals of cane per acre while the new varieties too have the same potential. Some varieties like COPB 95 have little more yield than this as per our experiments in the government nurseries and plots.
Dr Amrik Singh, Agriculture Development Officer, Pathankot, said that the price of sugarcane should be fixed at par with that of neighbouring state, adding that agricultural inputs used in sugarcane cultivation should be provided by the Cooperative Sugar Mills on loan basis and machinery used for sugarcane cultivation should be provided on subsidy basis to boost farmers income.
Currently Punjab has 9.7 per cent sugar recovery rate while it should be around 11 per cent but it is done because some sugar mills go for making ethanol instead of sugar because of which average recovery rate of 16 sugar mills comes down.