Azolla Farming Project Report, Cost, and Profits

Introduction

Many people are asking about cultivation process and Azolla Farming Project Report and cultivation process. Let us get into the details.

Azolla is an aquatic fern, which resembles duckweed or mosses. It is addressed with other names like mosquito fern, duckweed fern, fairy moss or water fern. The name Azolla is derived from two Greek words, i.e. ‘azo’ means dry and ‘ollya’ means to kill. Therefore, this name Azolla indicates an important property of the fern that it would be killed by drought. Azolla is native to Asia, Africa, and America. Azolla is believed to float on the surface of the water with roots hanging underneath. These plants have leaves which are small in size and overlap on each other. The leaves or fronds are water repellent and sometimes red in color. This plant is popular as ‘super-plant’ because of its great speed of growing and doubling its biomass within 2 or 3 days. Currently, the plant genus has 6 species of which A.pinnata is mostly found in Asia. Some other species are A.filiculoides, A. nilotica, A. caroliniana, A. Mexicana, A. microphylle. Each species has different frond size and frond colors may vary from green to purplish-red. The indication of different coloured fronds is described as three morpho- physiological strains; where red is considered to be resistant to high salinity, purple is resistant to acidity and green is resistant to high temperatures. The length of the roots for Azolla is around 1 to 2 cm and the leaf size is about 1 to 2 cm. The fern has a sporophytic cycle and is generally associated with cooler temperatures. The difference in the strain and environmental factors can alter the nutrient composition of Azolla. Azolla is considered to have the following nutrients, which is why it is greatly used as animal or livestock feed (For dairy animals, poultry, sheep and goat). Dried Azolla has:

  • Crude protein
  • Fibre
  • Ether extract
  • Ash
  • Nitrogen-free extract
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorous
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Cystine

This Azolla Farming project report presents details about Azolla, it’s uses, requirements, and Farming methods. At the end of the report, one can find the details of the cost structure for a small Azolla Farming area and profits associated with it.

Nitrogen fixation

Generally, it is known that Azolla helps in nitrogen fixation, but the truth is that Azolla is believed to live in association with blue-green algal species which fixes the atmospheric nitrogen for the rapid plant growth. The algal species live in the upper lobes of the fern and is named as ‘anabaena Azolla’. The algal species is a source of organic nitrogenous fertilizer and is used aquatic green manure especially during rice Farming. The symbiosis of anabaena Azolla is estimated to produce 1 tonne of green manure from a hectare of land each day and is considered to contain around 3 kg of fixed nitrogen, which is approximately equal to 15 kgs of ammonium sulphate or 7 kgs of urea. Cultivating Azolla can produce 1½ million tonnes of nitrogen. When grown on a nitrogen-free substrate Azolla can double its weight within 3-5 days and can contain almost 0.1-0.2% nitrogen. Dry Azolla contains 3-5% nitrogen. It is important to note that the color of Azolla doesn’t indicate its nitrogen content. The reason for red-colored Azolla is described in many ways, such as phosphorous and calcium deficiency, summer temperature, etc. Both green and red Azolla strains have almost the same nitrogen content.

Advantages of Azolla

Advantages of Azolla.
Advantages of Azolla.
  • Can grow easily in the wild and under controlled environmental conditions
  • Fast growing fern and produced in large quantities
  • Has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen
  • Helps solubilize elements like zinc, iron, manganese, etc. and make these available to the rice plants
  • Suppresses the weeds in the Farming lands
  • Ability to release plant growth regulators and vitamins supporting plant growth
  • Can be used as a substitute for chemical nitrogen fertilizers
  • Reduces water evaporation rate of the farming area
  • Increases fertilizer utilization efficiency
  • Needs less investment for Farming
  • Can be grown within a small area in a farm alongside other crops
  • Helps balance the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere

Cultivation Practices of Azolla:

Land selection and pond construction for Azolla Farming

Land should be selected such that monitoring and regular upkeep must be possible. Water supply to the land should be adequate and the land should be able to get the partial shade or shade arrangements have to be created for cultivating Azolla. The site should not have stones, thorns or pointed elements otherwise the sheet could be punctured.

The growing area of Azolla may differ depending on the requirement for the farm. A pond size of dimensions 6 x 4 ft can produce 1 kg of Azolla each day for one year. The land should be thoroughly cleaned and levelled. The pond can be created with bricks or with a raised embankment by evacuating the soil. The area should be covered with silpauline, a polythene tarpaulin which is durable and should be secured by bricks on all sides so as to protect it from blowing away during strong winds. Care should be taken such that the sheet doesn’t have any holes to prevent water leakage. Wooden poles or bamboo sticks should be placed around the pond to support the shade net.

Propagation of Azolla

Procedures for initiating the sporophytic cycle of Azolla haven’t yet evolved so Azolla reproduces vegetatively and it is necessary to maintain viable stocks all around the year. Preserving the species during very hot and very cold temperatures is a problem and should be handled with care.

Azolla is grown in the shade of rice plants spaced 1 m apart during summer months (July-August) otherwise there is a risk of pest infestation. An organo-phosphorous compound is added to the growth to preserve it and protect it from pests.

Preserving Azolla during winter months can be done in several ways, such as: placing Azolla in a pit with 25 cm of water and covering it with plastic to keep it air-tight; storing Azolla in a three-layered form within a 30 cm deep pit and covering it with straw, aeration is provided using bamboo pipes and humidity is provided by water at a shallow depth; supplying industrial waste hot water to the Azolla growing areas and protect it in winter due to the rise of water temperature. During winter Azolla should not be touched or transported otherwise it would die.

To grow Azolla two main methods are used: one is to grow them in nurseries and then sow then onto rice fields for further propagation and second is to grow Azolla independently over large areas as a green manure crop. There are a few problems in Azolla propagation such as:

  • All varieties are not resistant to high and low temperatures
  • Conserving the propagation stock of Azolla needs much care
  • Pest and disease
  • Only one method of propagation
  • Transport of material

Read: Azolla Benefits, Uses, Role, Importance In Rice Production.

Environmental requirements for Azolla Farming

  • Azolla needs partial shade and light for growth and photosynthesis. It is found mainly in ponds, ditches, warm wetlands, and tropical regions. The sunlight requirement for Azolla Farming is 25-50%.
  • The average temperature range for Azolla Farming is around 20-30˚C. It should be noted that Azolla cannot grow at temperatures below 5˚C but can survive up to -3˚C. Above 5˚C the growth of Azolla increases over a period of 5 days. Temperature above 35˚C will hamper the growth of Azolla by decreasing its multiplication rate.
  • The fern is extremely sensitive to lack of water, the minimum water level in the pond or area of growth should be 4 inches.
  • The optimum relative humidity required for Azolla Farming is around 85-90%. Humidity below 60% causes dryness in the area and the increases fragility of Azolla.
  • The pH of the growing medium should be in between 5-7. Too much alkaline or acidic pH has an adverse effect on Azolla growth.
  • For cultivating Azolla the salinity of water should be less than 0.1%.
  • Azolla receives its nutrients from water and the most important element is phosphorous. An adequate supply of phosphorous is highly essential for the growth of Azolla. Sometimes fertilizing with potassium is also needed for its growth. The application of phosphorous should be in different forms and in split doses added every two days to the growing medium. Generally used phosphorous fertilizers are superphosphate (56%), rock phosphate (45%) and magnesium phosphate (22%). Note that the values in the brackets indicate the percentage increase in the weight of Azolla when the fertilizer is added.
  • If it is found that the fern is turning reddish-brown in color while growing then it indicates lack of nitrogen fertilizer and then a solution (1% of urea and 1% of superphosphate) is sprayed on the ferns, else nitrogen fertilizer is usually not required by Azolla.
  • Azolla is also fertilized using compost made of vegetative matter such as straw mixed with river silt.

Pest and disease control In Azolla Farming

Pests are a serious problem for the growth of Azolla as they can completely damage or destroy Azolla mostly during the summer season. The major insect pests that feed on the leaves of Azolla are the larvae of lepidoterous, dipterous, pyralis, microspecta, nymphila and chiraonoma. They mainly attack the fern during may-august. They can be controlled by spraying DDT emulsion @ 25% or moment @ 20%. Some of the larvae also feed on the roots of Azolla which can be treated by spraying parathion or toxaphene. Snails also feed on the roots and young leaves of Azolla and can be controlled by use of proper insecticide.

Azolla can be attacked by rymanae, a fungus especially during high temperatures and can be controlled by spraying diluted defusit or dipterex with Malathion.

The material requirement for Azolla Farming

The following materials are required for Azolla Farming:

  • Silpauline sheets of density 150 gcm (gram per cubic cm)
  • Sieved fertile soil
  • Vermin compost
  • Organic manure (poultry manure or cow dung)
  • Powdered rock phosphate
  • Azolla culture
  • Micronutrients
  • Clean water
  • Shade net
  • Farming and gardening tools
  • Bricks

The farming process of Azolla

Producing Azolla is a simple process and can be easily done by an ordinary farmer. Basically, there are two ways of Azolla multiplication process. They are the standing water method and the nursery method.

Standing water method or the pond method

  • An artificial pond is created with a depth of 9 inches and the bottom is properly cleared and levelled. A silpauline sheet of required dimensions is spread over the land and secured properly.
  • Sieved fertile soil @ 10-15 kgs is spread over the sheet.
  • A solution of 10 liters of water and 1 kg of cow dung is uniformly spread over the soil.
  • Superphosphate or powdered rock phosphate @ 10-20 kg is added along with the cow dung slurry to maintain the nutrient levels.
  • The pond should be filled with water to a height of 10 cm.
  • Approximately 1 kg of Azolla mother culture is inoculated in the pond and 20 g of micronutrients are added to improve the mineral content.
  • 1 kg of Azolla can be harvested each day after 10-15 days of inoculation.
  • To keep up the multiplication rate of Azolla, 10 g of superphosphate and 500 g of cow dung should be added every 5 days to the pond. Micronutrient mixture should be added weekly to maintain the mineral levels in the pond.
  • Once in 30 days, it is recommended to replace the bed soil with fresh soil so that nutrient deficiency and high nitrogen build up can be avoided.
  • Water in the pond also should be replaced once in every 10 days to keep the Azolla fresh.
  • If any symptoms of pest or disease are noticed, then the soil bed along with Azolla culture has to be replaced with new culture and soil immediately.

Nursery method

  • Azolla is raised in plots of 50-100 sqm with strong bunds.
  • Soil should be compacted to avoid percolation of water or the sides and bottom of the plot can be plastered with a mixture of fine clay and cow dung to control percolation.
  • Small nursery beds are considered more suitable than large plots because there is less drifting of Azolla by wind in small plots.
  • One hectare of land may require 4-8 kgs of superphosphate.
  • Once the plots are prepared, water is filled into it and nutrients added in the required quantities, then Azolla inoculum is introduced into it after 2-3 days.
  • Azolla can multiply from any broken part of the plant. It is estimated that 1 sqm of an area may require 300-400 g of fresh Azolla mother culture.
  • Harvested rainwater is filled in the pond for Azolla Farming in the rainy season; this ensures excellent and faster growth.

Harvesting of Azolla

Azolla can grow completely within 2-3 weeks time and after its full growth, it can be harvested daily. The biomass is collected into plastic sieves. Presence of any litter should be immediately removed from the area. The average yield of Azolla is 1 kg per day from an area of dimensions 6 x 4 ft. Excess production can be dried under shade and stored for future use. It can be used as a livestock feed either in fresh or dry form. After harvesting it has to be washed thoroughly with water to remove the smell of cow dung. The water used for cleaning can be reused in the pond for Farming.

Azolla Farming Project Report / Cost and profit analysis

The estimation for two small fodder plots has been described here. The no. of cultivating units can be increased or decreased depending on the need. If it is used for animal food, then the quantity sufficient for the cattle can be produced else if it is for commercial purpose then a minimum quantity is produced. The materials required and their price is listed here, but these may vary depending on the location and availability of materials.

Assumptions in Azolla Farming Project Report:

Cost of 1 kg of fresh Azolla: Rs 100.

The rate of labour per manday: Rs 250.

Cost of silpauline tarpaulin sheet: Rs 400.

Cost of 1 kg of fertile soil: Rs 150.

Cost of 1 kg of superphosphate: Rs 80.

Cost of 1 kg of cow dung: Rs 15.

Cost of a poly net: Rs 35/sq m.

Material requiredInvestment in Rs
Cost of making two trenches of dimensions (2.25 x 1.5 x 0.2 m) @ 250 for 2 mandays500.00
2 Silpauline tarpaulin sheets800.00
Fertile soil @ 15 kg per trench4,500.00
Cow dung @ 5 kg per trench150.00
Super phosphate fertilizer @ 10 kg800.00
Fresh Azolla culture @ 2 kg200.00
Shade or poly net1000.00
Wooden sticks or bamboo2000.00
Micronutrients100.00
Total investment 7,350.00

Sale price of Azolla leaves per kg: Rs 300.

After 20 days Azolla is harvested @ 1.5 kg/day.

So the monthly income from harvesting Azolla is estimated to be: Rs 13,500.

The profit from the farm is around: Rs 6,150.

The values can be taken as a reference only because there may be a slight deviation in the original set up cost. The cost of the land, transport, electricity, etc. have not been included in this estimation, but have to be considered while implementing the structure.

NABARD provides some sort of assistance for Azolla Farming and it was known to have encouraged Azolla fodder plots in various watersheds under the watershed development fund. People who need assistance may contact or visit the nearest NABARD office for exact information.

Azolla Farming is helping women improve their socioeconomic status. Rural women are being trained in Azolla Farming methods by the ICAR-Krishi Vigyan Kendra so that they can start the business on their own.

Azolla culture can be obtained from trusted nurseries, agricultural departments or research organizations.

Read: Kadaknath Chicken Farming Project Report.

Uses of Azolla

  • Azolla finds use in the agriculture sector as green manure for rice Farming; sometimes it is also used in wheat, maize, and broad beans Farming areas. It is observed that production increases by 20%.
  • Dry Azolla is used as livestock feed because of its high nutritional content and low lignin content. Feeding poultry birds with Azolla improve their weight and egg production capacity. It can be fed to cows, sheep, goat, pig, rabbit, and fish.
  • Azolla grows as a thick layer on the water surface, so when grown in rice or paddy fields it controls the weeds and acts as natural organic mulch in the area of Farming. It also retains the soil moisture level by slowing down the water evaporation rate.
  • As one of the common names indicates ‘mosquito fern’ is because of its ability to control the breeding of mosquitoes in a particular area.

Read: Spirulina Farming.

Tips for maintaining the Azolla farm

  • Azolla grows fast, so it is recommended to harvest daily.
  • Adding fertilizer, manure and micronutrients once every week enhances its growth.
  • Replacing at least 30% water from the pond with fresh water can help balance nitrogen levels.
  • Once in every 6 months, the entire pond has to be cleaned and filled with fresh materials.
  • Introducing the Azolla culture after 2 or 3 days of pond creation is advisable so that the fertilizers, manure and other nutrients settle to the bottom allowing the ferns to float free.
  • Rubbing Azolla with hands to break it into smaller pieces and then introducing it into the pond is found to help in greater multiplication rate.

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