Straight up and farther aparthttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/straight-up-and-farther-apart/

Straight up and farther apart

A break from tradition allows sugarcane to grow uninhibited,pays farmers better.

From a humble beginning on a couple of acres five years ago,a technique for sugarcane cultivation is now in practice across 800 to 900 acres in Phagwara,with a further 1,000 acres booked for the September-October season.

The “vertical single-bud Phagwara technique” is an innovation developed by two farmers,Avtar Singh of Phagwara and Jujhar Singh of Bhonki village,and is being promoted by the Wahid Sandhar Sungar Mill of Phagwara. This season alone,the mill brought 475 acres under the technique,apart from getting booking orders for 1,000 acres land from 400 farmers.

Avtar Singh explains the difference. “This technique is different in many ways from the method of cane cultivation traditionally followed in the state. We promote a nature-friendly concept. Rather than horizontally as in the traditional method,we plant the seeds vertically,because cane grows in that direction. Also,we set the plants north to south so that they can get more sunlight and air,” he says.

“Here we make 45 parallel rows with trenches between every two,rather than 95 rows as in the traditional method. We keep a four-foot gap between rows and one of two feet between plants; in the traditional method the plants are sown only a few inches apart,” says Avtar Singh,who is cultivating on 90 acres and was awarded Rs 51,000 by the Phagwara sugar mill for his innovation.

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The technique saves about 85 per cent of the seeds required on a field of given size,still doubles the yield,and saves nearly 50 per cent water while helping recharge water and protecting the water table,say those who are promoting it. So far,190 farmers of Phagwara have taken it up. This is a turnaround from the initial years,when most had spurned the option.

The sugar mill,which is providing the seeds and farm implements,is drawing farmers in with a bargain. If a farmer gets a yield under 250 quintals per acre (which they would have got had they gone with their traditional methods),then the sugar mill bears the losses. If the farmer gets more then 250 quintals,then he and the mill share 50 per cent of his profit from that extra yield,says Dr Charanjit Singh,cane development officer,Phagwara.

“Farmers may not be able to increase their land holdings but they can definitely increase their yield from the land they have if they adopt this technique,” says J S Wahid,owner of Wahid Sandhar Sugar Mill. “With the traditional method we get 250 quintals cane from one acre,but with this method one can get even 500 to 600 quintals from the same acre.”

Dr Singh says,“In the traditional method,one plant has seven to 8 offshoots; in this one,we get 40 to 45 and finally 25 to 30 canes at the maturing stage. On every acre,the traditional method would have required 35 quintals of seed at Rs 10,000,but the new method uses only six quintals at Rs 2,000 because of the wider spacing. And we need to fill only 22 rows with water,against 45,” Dr Singh says.

Dr Singh says the same method is ideal for inter-cropping of potato,cauliflower,pea,tomato,cucumber,lady’s finger and other vegetables. A farmers can earn a minimum Rs 1 lakh from one acre,he adds.

“I wanted to do something new and Jujhar Singh supported me in developing this nature-friendly method of cane cultivation on my couple of fields,” says Avtar Singh,who is an M Sc in biochemistry,and who gets over 600 quintals cane per acre.

“We first experimented with this technique on just one acre on our sugarcane farm,but now we have brought our entire 25 acres in Khanaura village under this technique,” says Wahid,who is also the chairman of the marketing federation. “We have motivated other farmers,who have taken it up on 475 acres. Farmers who were reluctant earlier are now contacting us and getting bookings done.”

Jaswinder Singh of Rawalpindi village says that until three years ago,he had not been interested. Even when he started,it was with some doubt. Now he uses only the vertical method over 40 acres.