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Intercropping in Sugarcane

Intercropping is an age old practice of growing two or more crops simultaneously on the same piece of land. It is a technique of crop intensification in both time and space wherein competition between crops may occur during a part or whole growth period.

Dr. Sangeeta Soi

Intercropping is an age old practice of growing two or more crops simultaneously on the same piece of land. It is a technique of crop intensification in both time and space wherein competition between crops may occur during a part or whole growth period. Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.) crop occupies an important position in Indian agriculture and plays a pivotal role in national economy by sustaining the second largest organized agro industry in the country next to textile. In India it is grown in 5.00 million hectares area with a production of 350.00 million tonnes and the average productivity is 70.00 t ha1. 

There is a little scope of increasing area under sugarcane due to heavy competition for food, fiber, oilseed, pulses etc. Therefore, the only alternative left is to increase the vertical production of sugarcane and sugar by finding out the efficient agronomic management practices. In recent years, several changes in cropping system been observed. The sole cropping has been shifted to intercropping system which has proved to be productive, economically feasible and sustainable. 

As we know Sugarcane is a long duration crop with its sowing with spacing of 75 to 150 cm. It is a slow growing crop up to 80-90 days. Its efficient root system helps to tap plant nutrients and moisture from the soil deep layers allowing the intercrops to feed at the top layer of soil.  

Objective of Intercropping 

In Sugarcane, the wide space of inter-row 90 cm available between 2 rows of sugarcane, long duration for bud sprouting, initial slow rate of growth and its ability to compensate for any loss of tillers due to intercrop competition have helped in successful intercropping of grain legumes, oilseeds, potato and maize, in plant crop and forage legumes in winter initiated ratoon. The major objectives of intercropping are to produce an additional crop, to optimize the use of natural resources and to stabilize the yield of crops. In order to meet the growing demand of diverse crop and to arrest further decline in factor productivity and to make the sugarcane production system more viable, it is necessary to enhance the productivity of the system as a whole. The companion cropping of sugarcane with high value medicinal, oilseeds and vegetable for seed purpose were found remunerative rather than growing the sole crop of sugarcane.   

Sugarcane–based intercropping systems, viz. sugarcane sole and sugarcane intercropped with lentil (Lens esculentus), rajmash (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), Indian mustard (Brassica compestris), rapeseed (Brassica sp.) and maize (Zea mays L.) The intercropping with rajmash had no adverse effect on the number of millable canes (117.6 thousand/ha), cane length (213 cm) and cane yield (83.4 t ha-1 ) compared with sole cane.  

Sugarcane intercropping with legumes 

Growing pulses with sugarcane crop not only increases the area under pulse crop but also reduces the intensity of weeds and provides mid-season income to house-holds for further use of critical inputs to sugarcane along with additional employment opportunities. The reduction in cane yield was 14.0, 8.9 and 11.4 per cent with cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.], mungbean (Vigna radiata) and urdbean (Vigna mungo) intercropping respectively. Sugarcane intercropped with Sesbania (GM) yielded similar to that of sole sugarcane. Sugarcane + cowpea gave 17.2, 15.8, 19.0 and 26.5 per cent higher mean caneequivalent yield (118.4 tonne ha-1 ) than sole sugarcane, sugarcane + mungbean, sugarcane + urdbean and sugarcane + Sesbania intercropping respectively.  

Sugarcane intercropped with Forage 

Intercropping of berseem in winter-initiated sugarcane ratoon significantly increased the number of millable canes (117.8 thousand Chogatapur et al Int. J. Pure App. Biosci. 5 (2): 319-323 (2017) ISSN: 2320 – 7051 Copyright © April, 2017; IJPAB 321 ha-1 ), cane yield (72.4 t ha-1 ), cane-equivalent yield (90.81 t ha-1 ) and commercial cane sugar (8.81 t ha-1 ) compared with sole cropping (7.66 t ha-1) 

Sugarcane intercropped with Vegetables 

Intercropping of cereals, legumes, oilseeds, vegetables and spices in autumn sugarcane have been found to enhance natural resources use efficiency, productivity and profit margins. The intercropping of wheat, raya, metha as seed crop, sugarbeet as vegetable and linseed suppressed tillering and significantly reduced the shoot production of autumn sugarcane. The vertical planted sugarcane intercropped with garlic and metha as vegetable followed by onion as vegetable produced similar cane yield and were significantly better than rest of the intercropping systems. 

Sugarcane intercropped with other crops 

Sugarcane + maize gave the highest mean cane-equivalent yield (200.6 tonnes ha-1 ) being 52.5, 45.4, 55.7, 50.0 and 48.6 per cent higher than sole sugarcane and its intercropping with lentil, mustard, rajmash and rapeseed, respectively. However, all the intercrops except maize, reduced cane yield attributed to decline in number of millable canes. Mean reduction in cane yield was 8.7 per cent with lentil, 14.8 per cent with mustard, 13.3 per cent with rajmash and 8.7 per cent with rapeseed 

Profit from Maize intercropping with sugarcane 

Sugarcane intercropped with maize gave highest net return of Rs 124,874 ha-1 followed by sugarcane alone (Rs 71,145) as against Rs 62,104; 65,067; 67,138 and 69,040 with intercropping of mustard, rajmash, rapeseed and lentil respectively. Sugarcane + cowpea also gave the highest net return of Rs 57,772 compared to Rs 41,449 with urdbean and Rs 48,330 with sole sugarcane. 

Thus, the inclusion of short-duration intercrops like rajmash, lentil and maize for green cobs in autumn-planted sugarcane may improve the socio-economic status of small and marginal cane growers by generating mid-season income 

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