Historically, sugar cane was always rain fed and only grown in sub-tropical climates with abundant rain. As sugar demand has grown and suitable land became more scarce, cane growing has moved into semi-arid and arid regions, where the benefits of irrigation coupled with longer sunshine hours has provided more efficient production and greater cane tonnages on lesser land area. Better management practices must be followed with irrigated sugar cane because poorly investigated and designed systems could lead to high water tables and salinization of the soil.
Sugars plants of NSL Sugars are located at arid district i.e. Beed in Maharashtra, Gulbarga, Mandya and Bellary in Karnataka, and Mehboobnagar in Telangana. For increasing the productivity of sugarcane per unit of water utilized, NSL is focusing on improved management practices such as wide space planting, seedling technology, alternate furrow irrigation, Sprinkler Irrigation, Drip Irrigation etc.
Water is crucial factor in plant growth and mainstreaming various metabolic activities. The rapid increase in the area under irrigation and the loss of large quantities of water through mostly low efficient, traditional methods of irrigation system have led to an overall shortage of water resources and particularly an alarming decline in groundwater levels. Sugarcane requires 1600-1800 mm of water for its full maturity. But as per the present irrigation application system, applied water is almost triple than required. Because of traditional method of irrigation i.e. flood irrigation there is loss of excess irrigation water as well as applied fertilizer through leaching, which ultimately meets ground water and causes ground water pollution. Sugarcane being a giant crop producing huge quantity of biomass generally demands higher amounts of nutrient elements. The cost of chemical fertilizers has also increased and there is a need to improve fertilizer use efficiency for more benefits. The best answer to this challenge is "Fertigation", where both water and fertilizers are delivered to crop simultaneously through a drip irrigation system. Fertigation ensures that essential nutrients are supplied precisely at the area of most intensive root activity according to the specific requirements of sugarcane crop and type of soil resulting in higher cane yields and sugar recovery.
Conscious of these issues and of the need to sustain agricultural production and rural income, especially for small farmers, NSL Sugars Ltd took step towards sustainable water resources and irrigation development to meet the growing demand from sugarcane agriculture and optimal utilization of water resources, through the introduction of improved irrigation methods i.e. Drip Irrigation.
Though there are some defined benefits of Drip Irrigation, the initial high capital cost restrict farmer to go for larger scale. To resolve this issue NSL entered into agreement with MIS companies for supporting farmers financially on loan basis with moderate rate of interest. As part of access to finance Presently NSL Sugar is working with major drip irrigation systems providers i.e. M/s Jain Irrigation Pvt. Ltd. and M/s Netafim Irrigation Pvt Ltd. Company has target to bring 100% of command are under drip irrigation. For promoting farmers to go for drip irrigation factory is supporting in form of drip subsidy. NSL Sugar has vision to cover 50% of cane area under Drip Irrigation in coming two years. By adoption of Drip Technology the cane farmers within the NSL command area observed the astonishing results such as saving in water consumption by 25-50%, low requirement of water, evaporation losses get reduced, decrease in weed infestation, the growth of sugarcane is homogeneous. decrease in infestation with pests and remarkable increase in yield by 50%.
For promoting Drip Irrigation NSL has its own expert’s team, at each unit one Agricultural Engineer is places at unit who is especially dedicated to Drip Irrigation promotion. Team of five engineers placed at five units along with one Drip Irrigation Head based at corporate office is working specially for Drip Irrigation.
In sugarcane cultivation around 20% of the cost is the seed cost. The traditional method of sugarcane planting consumes seed up to 3 to 3.5 Mt per acre, which is the major cost in total cost of sugarcane cultivation. Seedling raised with Single-budded Chip is practical approach to sugarcane production which is based on the principles of ‘more with less’. Sugarcane plantation with seedling improves the productivity of water, land and labor, all at the same time, while reducing the overall pressure on water resources. This method of sugarcane production which involves using less seeds, less water and optimum utilization of fertilizers and land to achieve more with limited resources.
The single budded chips technically removed from healthy cane are used for raising nursery. The selected buds are Seedlings are raised in trays filled with coco-peat. The young seedlings are transplanted to the farmer’s field at the age of 25-35 days. Compared to the conventional method of directly planting three budded sugarcane setts in the field, the use of seedlings saves one month of irrigation, while also increasing productivity by minimizing plant mortality and of course saves seed usage. The seedling methodology helps to reduce seed cost by 25-30% in comparison to sett plating. Seedlings can also be used for gap filling. Gap filling is the practice of replanting by replacing plants that have died to maintain full and uniform crop stand. Gap filling is a very simple way of increasing productivity and water use efficiency.
NSL sugar has its own established seed nursery at factory side and providing seedlings to farmers for new plantation with subsidized rate. To promote the technology NSL has identified entrepreneurs from command area those are producing seedlings and supplying to farmers. Selected entrepreneurs are being assisted in establishing and operating seedling nurseries which requires simple shade houses, plastic trays and coco peat.
Being sugarcane as C4 crop NSL is focusing on wide row planting technique. To facilitate mechanization in sugarcane cultivation, wide row planting following a spacing of 150 to 180 cm is being adopted in factory command area of NSL. For planting single eyed setts are being used which reduced seed requirement by 40%.
Wide spacing with a distance of 5 feet between dual rows (two rows of setts planted at a distance of about 30 cm) results in more tillering per clump and therefore in more millable canes per acre than in conventional planting practices in which the distance maintained between two rows is only 1.5-2.5 feet. Wider spacing supports easy air and sunlight penetration in the crop canopy for better and healthy cane growth, resulting in higher productivity. Wider spacing facilitates mechanization of cane cultivation and intercropping.