Short essay on Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)

Sugarcane is an important cash crop of the country accounting for only 2 per cent of the total cropped area of the country but contributing over 7 per cent of the total value of its agricultural produc­tion.

The crop provides raw material to the sugar industry which is the second largest industry of the country providing employment to over 4 lakh indus­trial workers. Besides providing sugar, gur and khandsari it supplies molasses for alcohol industry and bagasse for paper industry.

Although sugarcane plant is an indigenous plant of India and up to 1979 India was the largest producer of the crop in the world, it now accounts for 21 per cent of the total area and 23 per cent of the total production of sugarcane (Brazil 27%) in the world. Due to the utilization of only 54.4 percent of the total production of sugarcane in sugar making India is relegated to third place in sugar production after Brazil and Cuba.

Also the Indian sugarcane yields less sugar content (less than 10%) in compari­son to other countries (Japan and Taiwan 12.9 per cent, Cuba 12.3 per cent and Java 11.5 per cent).

Conditions of Growth

Sugarcane is a tropical plant belonging to the cane family. It grows well in areas with 20°C to 26°C temperatures. But in India it is cultivated even in areas with 30°-40°C temperature. Infect temperature above 40°C and below 15°C is harmful for the crop and frost is detrimental. Short cool dry winter season during ripening and harvesting is ideal.

The crop requires a long rainy season of about 8 months’ duration in summer with about 150 cm of rainfall. Rainfall deficiency may be made up through irriga­tion. Maritime climate improves the output of the crop and its quality. Sugarcane requires deep, rich loamy soils which are neither too acidic nor too alkaline.

It is largely grown on loams and clayey loams of the Great Plains and on black soils, brown or reddish loams and late rites in the Peninsular India. The crop also requires heavy maturing. Sugarcane cultivation is a labour intensive involv­ing abundant supply of cheap labour. The cane has to be quickly transported to the factory to avoid loss in sucrose content.

Cultivation

Sugarcane requires well-prepared and manure fields in which seed sets (length 30-45 cm) are planted in furrows and covered with soil. There is enough distance between rows (30-45 cm) to facili­tate hoeing, weeding, irrigation and harvesting. The crop requires plantation technique where every plant is taken care of. In some parts of the country it is cultivated as a mixed crop.

In some parts of Karnataka the cultivation is done through seeds and in certain areas rationing is also practiced. But the productiv­ity decreases after the first crop. Sugarcane is a year- round crop. Its planting begins from January to April and the harvesting and crushing operations start in October-November and continue till April.

The per hectare yield of sugarcane in India (64.57 tons in 2002-03) is very low in comparison to other countries of the world (cf. 78.914 tones in U.S.A., 88.889 tones in Mexico, and 80.526 tones in Indonesia. However, there has been remarkable improvement in the crop-yield due to the adoption of HYV like CO 419, CO 421, CO 449, CO 427 and CO 313 etc.) And improvement in input facilities. The per hectare yield has risen from 33.422 tons in 1950-51 to 72.560 tons in 1998-99 with an aver­age annual rate of 2.44 percent. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are charac­terised by higher per hectare yield (above 65.7 tones/ha), while interior parts of the country and traditional sugarcane growing areas of Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab record the lowest per hectare yield (less than 61.5 tones/ha). Lack of fertilisers, poor cane varieties, small and scattered nature of holdings, backward methods of cultivation and incongenial climatic conditions are responsible for this low yield. Unlike in case of food grains most of the sugarcane area is now under HYV and 88 per cent of the cropped area is irrigated.