Organic Cashew Production (Kaju) – Cultivation In India

Introduction to Organic Cashew Production (Kaju) in India

The Cashew tree is an evergreen tree in the Anacardiaceae family grown for its edible fruits (nuts). The tree has a branching main trunk and characteristic domed crown. The thin foliage of the tree is limited to the ends of the branches and is made up of shiny dark green color leaves. Normally, Cashew nuts are seeds, found growing on the end of the Cashew apple. In India, you can find the major cashew growing regions in Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Tamilnadu, and West Bengal and some parts of Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Organic Cashew Production, Cultivation Practices

The Cashew tree is one of the important tropical plants that possess high economic value and produces the Cashew seed and the Cashew apple. Factors such as the quality of seeds, fertilizer, pests, and diseases are general factors determining the successfulness of organic Cashew cultivation. Also, soil suitability is a limiting factor that influences Cashew productivity. Organic Cashew cultivation is taken up by small and marginal farmers and as more than 70% of the Cashew, the area is under this organic category.

Guide to Organic Cashew Production
Guide to Organic Cashew Production (Pic Source: Pixabay)

Organic Cashew Production Practices

Some organic Cashew cultivation practices are;

Organic farming avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock feed activities. Organic farming relies on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manure, legumes, and green manure, to supply plant nutrients and to control insects, weeds, and pests.

The objectives of organic farming are; to

1) To increase long-term soil fertility,

2) To control pests and diseases without harming the environment,

3) To ensure that water stays clean and safe,

4) To produce nutritious food, feed for animals, and high-quality crops to sell at a good price.

India is the largest processor, consumer, and exporter of Cashew in the world. For increasing the production of Cashew nuts, it is not only necessary to increase the area but also to increase per unit yield with the application of organic manures and fertilizers besides other cultural operations. The world’s demands for organically farming Cashew fruits are growing rapidly in developed countries. An organic Cashew fruit fetches a premium price in the international market. The important organic Cashew nut-producing countries are Brazil, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka.

Only 15% of the total area under Cashew cultivation receives chemical fertilizers in India. The remaining 85% area produces organically by default with the utilization of naturally decomposed biomass but crop yield is very low. There is a wide scope to bring a vast area under organic Cashew farming with an improved package of practices for maximization of production.

Local farmers prefer to cultivate the Cashew tree along the border of their farm fields due to its multipurpose functions. Besides its economic importance, it functions as a fence, to mark the farm fields. Also, we observed that the distance between Cashew trees is relatively close (less than 5 meters). This condition makes the trees’ branches overlap each other. Therefore, sunlight penetration does not optimally reach the ground, which could enhance soil moisture. High humidity and moisture in soil could increase the risk of the presence of pests and diseases. The optimal planting distance of the Cashew tree is approximately 10 m2.

Major Cashew tree growing districts are followed by natural farming. But the crop yield from such orchards is low. This is due to the improper application of Cashew waste consisting of dry Cashew leaves, Cashew apples, and farm wastes. However, organic farming can be a boon to a large number of farmers as a natural alternative. While selecting a site for a new plantation due consideration must be given to the location. After the site selected for the planting of organic Cashew should be isolated from the conventional orchard blocks duly maintaining a distance of about 500 meters to prevent contamination with chemicals. Then, the recommended varieties for the specific region which are resistant to pests and diseases should be cultivated.

Kaju/Cashew Varieties for Organic Production

Only mid and late-season Cashew varieties are best suited for organic farming. The early season Cashew varieties flush early and flowering early are more affected by Tea Mosquito Bug (TMB).  Mid and late season (February-April) Cashew varieties escape this menace. Due to increased temperature during flowering and fruiting in mild and late plant varieties, the TMB population comes down thereby the crop damage by the pest is minimum or nil. As such, control of TMB does not arise under such conditions. However, under extreme changes in weather conditions favorable to a sudden outbreak of TMB, its control even with chemical means is difficult. Typically, mild season (Bhaskara, Dhana,  Amrutha,  BPP-8 V-4, V-7, VTH  174,  Dharashree, and Priyanka) and late-season varieties  (Ullal-1,  Chinthamani-1,  and Madakkatara-2) are suggested for organic farming.

Soil and Climatic Conditions for Organic Cashew Production

Cashew tree prefers poor sandy and laterite soil with a pH level of around 5-6.5. Never grow Cashew tree in clay-rich soil. It is heavy and encourages waterlogging, and in the case of a growing Cashew tree, the soil should be well-drained in a way that water will flow smoothly.

The most suitable temperature for Cashew farming is 30 to 38˚C with a relative humidity greater than 50%. The trees don’t require heavy rainfall conditions. During the yield season, the dry climate for 4 months is much favorable. The annual rainfall requirement for the Cashew crops is about 1000 to 2000 mm.

Cashew trees can adapt themselves to any type of climate without affecting productivity. The best soil suitable for the Cashew crop is well-drained sandy loam soil with a hardpan. Also, red sandy loam soil, lateritic soil, the sand of coastal areas, and soil with acidic pH levels are all suitable for the cultivation of Cashew. The best soils for Cashew tree cultivation are deep and well-drained sandy loams without a hardpan. Cashew tree thrives on pure sandy soils, although mineral deficiencies are more likely to occur. Red sandy loam, lateritic soils, and coastal sands with slightly acidic pH levels are best for Cashew.

Land for Commercial Organic Cashew Production

Cashew tree farming will need you to have a commercial unit for the cultivation. The area for Cashew farming first needs to be ploughed and then levelled. The cost of commercial land for Cashew production mainly depends on the area and location.

The land needs to be prepared before the farming of the Cashew crop. The ideal time for the preparation of land for Cashew farming is from May to June. It is also the time when digging up the holes for seedling transfer must be done. You need to dig the holes up to about 60cm x 60cm x 60cm. To set up a commercial land for agriculture, you will want to acquire the agricultural license provided by the government.

Spacing between Cashew Trees

Cashew trees are generally planted with a spacing of about 7 to 9 meters adopting the square system. A spacing of about 7.5 m X 7.5 m (175 plants/ha) or 8 m X 8 m (156 plants/ha) is recommended. High-density planting of Cashew at a closer spacing of about 4 m X 4 m (625 plants/ha) in the beginning and thinning out in stages to maintain a final spacing of 8 m X 8 m in the 10th year is also recommended. Then, this enables higher returns during the initial years.

Propagation Techniques in Organic Cashew Production

Multiplication of plants can happen through seeds or by vegetative methods. The selection of the propagation method is very important for the cultivation of Cashew. Commercial cultivation of the Cashew tree requires cross-pollination and vegetative propagation. The traditional method of farming Cashew involved the planting of seeds such that 3 seeds were planted in a single pit. Now, vegetative propagation by different methods is being practiced in Cashew farming.

Seed Propagation – The seed propagation method is seldom practiced now except to raise the rootstock materials. Seeds must be collected from March to May and the heavy seed nuts, which sink in water, are alone mixed with 2 parts of fine sand. They take 15 to 20 days for germination.

Vegetative propagation – The vegetative propagation method through cuttings is seldom practiced, as success is very less. Similarly, veneer grafting, side grafting, and patch budding are also reported to be successful but the nursery period is long 3 to 4 years. Recently ‘epicotyl grafting’ and ‘softwood grafting’ are suggested for commercial-scale adoption.

In the case of epicotyl grafting, tender seedlings with a height of about 15 cm are selected as rootstocks and a ‘V’ shaped cut is made after beheading it at a height of about 4 to 6 cm from the cotyledons connective. Then, the procured scion is collected and a wedge is made at the base of it, to exactly fit in the cut made in the stock. The scion is exactly fitted in the stock and then tied with polythene strips. The success of epicotyl grafting varies from 50 to 60% and depends upon high humidity, temperature, freedom from fungal disease. When the above method is adopted in 30 to 40 days old seedling, it is known as the softwood grafting method. Success varies from 40 to 50%.

Fertilizer Requirement for Organic Cashew Production

Organic Cashew fertilizers are prepared from Cashew leaf litter; apple and jungle growth available in Cashew garden can be collected before the pre-monsoon season during the harvest of the Cashew crop.

Cashew tree needs regular application of fertilizer to thrive and produce quality fruits. Use slow-release fertilizer according to the product instructions given on the packet, around the base of the tree, every 2 months, during the growing season. Also apply compost or farm manure once a year, around 15 kg on the surface of the soil to a mature Cashew tree.

Cashew trees respond well to the application of manure and fertilizers. These compounds are applied at several stages of the plant. Manure is applied during the first 15 days of planting. Fertilizer is applied to the plant at the base with a radius of about 22.5 m and a depth of 15 cm. The fertilizer quantity of the 1st year of planting per plant is about 50 g of urea, 175 g of rock phosphate, and 85 g of muriate of potash. Similarly, the nutrients for the Cashew plant during 1st year of planting are 15 kg of FYM, 250 g of nitrogen, 50 g of P₂O₅, and 50 g of K₂O. If the Cashew tree is being cultivated as an organic plant then nutrients are supplied in the form of oil cakes, green leaf compost, vermicomposting, and poultry manure, etc.

Nutrient Management of Organic Cashew Production

Soil fertility and nutrient supply are one of the important factors deciding crop yield. It is reported that only 20% of the cultivated area under the Cashew tree receives the nutrient application. Though Cashew plantations are reported to produce 1.38 to 5.20 tonnes per hectare of Cashew leaf litter biomass with reported composting efficiency of about 65%, these are not adequately recycled in Cashew plantations. The leaf litter is removed to facilitate the picking of nuts during harvest season.

During other periods these can be burned or composted. Though, the prepared composts are applied to other crops such as areca nut, coconut, etc. These practices year after year lead to depletion of soil nutrients. Normally, Cashew trees place no special demand for soil fertility. When, as is usual in organic cultivation systems, Cashew trees are cultivated with bottom crops in agroforestry systems, then the resulting organic material provided from pruning and green manure plants is necessary. Then, additional organic fertilizer is usually not necessary.

Supplementing nutrients through organic sources like oil cakes, green leaf compost, vermicomposting, fish meal, bone meal, Farm Yard Manure, and Poultry/pig manure, etc is a common practice for the production of Cashew organically. One must be careful while using oil cakes like neem cakes; as such cakes will cause an increase in soil acidity as a result of which multiple problems crop up in Cashew tree plantations. For organic Cashew farming, consider applying nutrients from natural sources like organic manure and FMY or poultry manure, fish meal, oil cakes, vermicomposting, and bone meal, etc.

Application of Manures in Organic Cashew Farming

In organic Cashew farming, the nutrient should be given organically. A grown-up Cashew tree produces about 20 kg of biomass waste per year (biomass waste includes Cashew leaf litter, pruning, and waste Cashew apples, etc.). This must be returned to the soil. Also, 5 to 8 kg castor cake or 10 kg FYM or 5 kg poultry manure with 50 g bio-fertilizers should be applied when there is optimum soil moisture. Manure application must be taken up at the beginning of monsoon (June) in low rainfall areas and in mid monsoon (August) in high rainfall areas. Since the Cashew growing soils are deficient in organic matter, application of about 10-15 kg farmyard manure or compost per grownup tree is recommended.

In the absence of FYM, green manuring can be adopted as an alternative in Cashew farming. Green manure crops such as glyricidia, sesbania, and sun hemp can be grown along boundaries and in between 2 rows of Cashew. The application of green manure increases organic matter content in the soil. It improves soil structure and helps to reduce runoff and soil erosion. Wherever available the poultry manure can be used in place of about FYM by applying at the rate of 10 kg per tree per year.

Irrigation Requirements in Organic Cashew Production

Cashew trees are a rain-fed variety. The Cashew trees require water for up to 3 years. In the initial stages of the establishment (seedling stage) Cashew tree needs irrigation in summer, especially in sandy soils. Though, we have to provide drainage in places of water stagnation. Irrigation during the flowering and fruiting increases productivity and quality of the fruit. When Cashew tree is being cultivated in sandy soils, then irrigation is needed during summer months. Proper drainage must be provided to avoid water stagnation. Drip irrigation with drippers at a distance of 1 meter from the crop during the flowering months (second fortnight of December to March) is observed to produce higher yields.

Pests and Diseases Management in Organic Cashew Production/Farming

Four major diseases observed in Cashew trees including anthracnose, Pestalotia leaf spot, bacterial leaf and nut spot, and gummosis. Fungus diseases usually occur on unsuitable sites. High humidity and poor air circulation can encourage an infestation of powdery mildew disease. The fungus infects the leaves and buds of trees.

An infestation of anthracnose in wet regions can lead to the loss of an entire crop. The first thing is to present methods of thinning out the plantation (improving the ventilation). Sulphur preparations can be used in an emergency, while this ought to be discussed with experts in organic farming first. Sudden deaths can be caused by the fungi Valsa eugeniae. The fungi produce an effect as if the Cashew tree had recently been burnt, with black leaves and trunk. The fungi cannot spread rapidly, though. The diseased or dead tree should be removed and burnt. As a rule, this measure suffices in keeping the fungi under control.

Stem and root borers, and tea mosquito bug are the major pests of Cashew in India. The other minor pest in the Cashew crop includes Thrips, Leaf, and Blossom Webber and Mealybug. In a balanced, organic farming system, the Cashew tree is a hardy crop. It is weakened trees that are infested by the Cashew bug, the main pest for trees. They harm the young shoots, thus reducing the harvest because the Cashew trees fructify on the young shoots. And, cotton should be avoided as a bottom crop, because it attracts Cashew bugs. An extreme case can be treated with neem preparations.

Organic Sprays for Cashew Pests and Diseases

Before the arrival of chemical pesticides, there were several traditional ways of insect and disease control, which slowly disappeared. Such organic control measures have been collected from several sources and listed here for the benefit of organic farmers. Some of the organic control measures helpful in Cashew cultivation.

Organic sprays protection from insects/diseases;

Cattle urine – for every liter of cattle urine, 8 to 10 liters of water is added and sprayed. 

Compost tea – About one kg of well-degraded compost powder is mixed in 40 liters of water, filtered, and sprayed.

Jeevamrutha – 10 kg fresh cow dung, 5-10 liters of cattle urine, 2 kg of black jaggary (or palm sugar), 1 kg legume seed powder, one handful of soil from the bunds of the field, and 200 liters water. All these constituents are mixed in a barrel, kept in shade for 2 days stirring 3 times a day. The mouth of the barrel must be kept closed with a wet gunny bag. Then, the solution is to be used for spraying within 7 days of its preparation and filter before use.

Beejamrutha – About 5 kg fresh cow dung, 5 liters cattle urine, 50 g CaO (lime), one handful of soil from the bunds of field, and 200-liters water. All these constituents have to be thoroughly mixed and the mixture can be used for the seed treatment. Treated seeds have to be shade dried and sown. The treatment enhances germination and Cashew nuts can be soaked for a day in this solution before sowing.

Some organic sprays for control of Cashew pests are Strychnos nux-vomica L, Neem seed concoction, Tobacco concoction, Neem oil/castor oil, Annona (custard apple-Annona squamosa L.) + Chilli + Neem Seed, Chilli + Garlic.

When and How to Harvest Cashew Nuts

Cashew plants start bearing after 3 years of planting and reach full bearing during the 10th year and continue giving remunerative yields for another 20 years. The Cashew nuts are harvested mainly during February – May. Generally, harvesting consists of picking up nuts that have dropped to the ground after maturing. The maturity of the Cashew nut is tested by the floatation process. The mature nuts sink in water while the immature or unfilled ones float. The Cashew nuts are collected at weekly intervals from the farm during the harvesting season.

Commonly Asked Questions about Cashew Farming

Questions about Cashew Farming
Questions about Cashew Farming (Pic Source: Pixabay)
Are organic Cashews better?

There are a lot of people who swear organic Cashew fruits taste better. There are even more people who believe organic Cashew fruits have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals.

How do you increase the yield of Cashews?

The Cashew is planted on the wastelands and hence the availability of soil moisture is always low, hence, mulching is essential. Mulching with black polythene is beneficial to increase the growth and yield of the Cashew crops.

How long does it take for a Cashew tree to produce fruit?

The traditional Cashew tree is tall up to about 14 meters and takes 3 years from planting before it starts production, and 8 years before economic harvests can begin.

Is Cashew a cash crop in India?

Cashew referred to as ‘wonder nut’, is one of the most valuable processed nuts traded on the global commodity markets and is also an important cash crop. India is the largest producer of Cashew crop in the world with a 25.52% share in world production.

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