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SUGARCANE BASED MULTIPLE CROPPING SYSTEMS

P. Geetha
Scientist (Agronomy)
ICAR - Sugarcane Breeding Institute
Coimbatore-641007

Multiple cropping aims at the maximum utilization of the natural resources of crop
production namely soil and air space and sunlight to grow crops so as to obtain high
economic biomass and returns per unit area per unit time. There are two ways of achieving
this (1) By growing two or more crops simultaneously on the same field, called intercropping,
and (2) By growing two or more crops in sequence on the same field in a farming year, called
sequential cropping. The feasibility of adopting these techniques in sugarcane fields is
discussed below:
Intercropping
The normal duration of sugarcane, either it is a plant crop or ratoon crop is about an
year. In the initial phase, the growth of the crop is slow and a normal spaced crop takes about
three months to cover the field satisfactorily. Upto this stage, certain amount of unutilized
soil space and sunlight are available in the sugarcane field. This can be exploited by growing
a short duration annual crop in the interspace of the sugarcane rows. But as this period
coincides with, the tillering phase of sugarcane, intercropping affects the tillering and the
final cane yield is reduced to some extent. To reduce the competition between sugarcane and
intercrop, the planting of sugarcane may be done in paired row system wherein sugarcane
rows are paired by having one narrow inter-row space alternate with a wider inter row space.
Intercrops can be grown only in the wider inter row space. Even by this method, there is
slight reduction in the cane yield but it is more than compensated by the intercrop yield.
The feasibility for intercropping is better in the northern parts of the country where
the sugarcane crop takes more time for germination and tillering is not so profuse, compared
to Southern India where vigorous tillering starts from the fourth week of planting itself. That
is why intercropping in sugarcane is not popular in Southern India compared to Northern
India. Therefore, the duration of the crops selected for intercropping should not exceed 90
days for Northern India and it is desirable to have crops with duration of 30 to 60 days for
Southern India. For intercropping, it is always better to plant sugarcane in the paired row
system. Wheat, maize, potato, mustard, ground nut, moong bean, soybean and peas are some
of the suitable intercrops for Northern India. Radish, onion, coriander, greens, moong bean
and soybean can be successfully grown as intercrops in Southern India. While selecting the
intercrop, the marketability of the produce should be taken into consideration. Otherwise, the
farmer may land into problems in the disposal of the produce and the overall profitability will
go down.

The main advantage of intercropping in sugarcane is that the farmer will get some
returns within the first three months of planting sugarcane. Otherwise, he has to wait for one
whole year to realize his returns.
Sequential cropping
Once sugarcane is planted, either two crops (one plant and one ratoon) in two farming
years or three crops (one plant and two ratoons) in three farming years are taken. Therefore,
on an average only one crop of sugarcane is harvested in a farming year. Under this situation,
increasing the cropping intensity in a farming year through sequential cropping was on
impossibility till recently. The evolution of short duration varieties in sugarcane which
matures in eight months opened up the possibility of increasing the cropping intensity in a
farming year through sequential cropping. Now that, in two farming years, three crops of
sugarcane (one plant and two ratoons) can be harvested taking the cropping intensity to 150
per cent in a farming year or two crops of sugarcane (one plant and a ratoon) can be harvested
in 16months and the remaining eight months in two consecutive farming years, can be
utilized for growing either one or two other crops in a sequence increasing the cropping
intensity either to 150 or 200 per cent in a farming year.
At the Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore, the following sequential cropping
systems were tested with the short duration sugarcane variety CoA 7601:
S.No.
1.
2.
3.
4.

Sequential cropping system


Sugarcane 1st ratoon 2nd ratoon
Sugarcane 1st ratoon finger millet
cotton
Finger millet sugarcane 1 st ratoon
wheat
Finger millet maize sugarcane
1st ratoon

Total duration of the


sequence (farming
years)
2
2

Cropping
intensity

200

200

150
200

The sequence sugarcane 1st ratoon finger millet cotton was found to be highly
profitable (Rs.18,242/ha in two farming years) under Coimbatore conditions. It is
worthwhile to conduct similar studies in other regions to identify the suitable sequential
cropping systems for different parts of the country.