Farmers in south India are finding alternatives to residue burning not only environment-friendly but also profitable. Shredding stubble is one such alternative that 280 sugarcane farmers in Karnataka state now swear by.
“I have been shredding and using the remains as post-harvest mulch. This has increased fertility, reduced costs and increased returns. I have been doing this for 18 years now and have also got other farmers to do it with similar results,” said Mr Pradeep Kumar, a farmer from Manahali village of Bidar district.
Farmers participating in Bhoosamrudhi Project in Karnataka were introduced to shredding by ICRISAT. Until then, the preferred method of clearing remnants of previous crop was stubble burning. Every acre of land cultivated with sugarcane produces around three-four tons of residue. Burning pollutes the air, affects soil and deprives the farmer of the opportunity to enhance soil fertility.
Mulching shredded stubble on the field helps increase soil organic content and boosts soil health. When done with application of micronutrients, yields can increase significantly, as was seen in Bidar. The farmers began to harvest around 45 tons per acre as against 35-40 tons before the intervention of the project.
Other benefits the farmers report include reduction in water use and increased water-holding capacity of the soil.
The improved practices reduced cost of cultivation from ₹ 40,000 (US$ 557) to ₹ 32,000 (US$ 445) per acre for the first crop. The cost of cultivating a ratoon crop reduced from ₹ 30,000 (US$ 418) to ₹ 27,000 (US$ 376) per acre with improved practices.
The ICRISAT Development Centre, which is executing the project, has estimated long-term benefits of mulching. When farmers practice shredding and mulching for years, like Mr Kumar, a significant amount of organic carbon is added to the soil, which significantly reduces the fertilizer expenditure. In Mr Kumar’s fields, 1,560 kg of organic carbon is being made available every year and in the last 18 years, the farmer has managed to accrue 28,080 kg of organic carbon!