Organic Sugarcane Farming, Production Practices

Introduction to Organic Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane belongs to the family Gramineae, is a widely grown crop in India. Sugarcane is one of the most important agro-industrial also cash crops of India. Organic farming is a holistic management system that improves and promotes the health of agro-ecosystem related to nutrient cycles, biodiversity, soil microbial, and biochemical activities. It emphasizes management practices involving substantial use of green manuring, organic manures, and management of diseases and pests through the use of non-synthetic pesticides and practices.

A Step by Step Guide to Organic Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane being a widely spaced, long duration, high input requiring crop fits well in the organic farming system. As a common understanding, organic farming is a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and growth regulators.

Guide to Organic Sugarcane Farming.
Guide to Organic Sugarcane Farming.

Principles of Organic Farming;

  1. Produce food of high-quality inadequate quantity
  2. Interact in a constructive and life-enhancing way with natural systems and cycles
  3. Consider the wider social and ecological impact of the organic production and processing system
  4. Encourage and enhance biological cycles within the farming system, involving micro-organisms, soil flora, and fauna, plants, and animals
  5. Maintain and increase the long -term fertility of the soils
  6. Maintain the genetic diversity of the production system and its surroundings including the protection of wildlife habitats
  7. Promote the healthy use and proper care of water, water resources, and all life therein
  8. Use, as far as possible, renewable resources in locally organized production systems
  9. Create a harmonious balance between crop production and animal husbandry
  10. Progress towards an entire production, processing, and distribution chain which is both socially just and ecologically responsible

Climate and Soil Requirement in Organic Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane crop succeeds best in hot sunny tropical areas. The perfect climate for Sugarcane is a long, warm growing season with a high incidence of solar radiation and suitable moisture in the soil. Areas with good irrigation and high rainfall are best suited for Sugarcane cultivation. Sugarcane can be effectively raised on diverse soil types ranging from sandy soils to clay loams and heavy clays. Though, a well-drained, deep, loamy soil is considered ideal for Sugarcane cultivation.

Sugarcane can be mostly cultivated in temperate zones; productivity is much higher in tropical climates. A long, sunny, and hot (32°C to 38°C) growing season with moderate to high levels of rainfall (1100 and 1500-mm total), combined with a cooler (12°C to 14°C) and dry harvest season is ideal. The amount of sugar accumulated in the dry weight at harvest is highly variable and based on the climate conditions in the various phases of the plant’s growth.

Sugarcane can grow in various types of soils like loamy, sandy, and clay soils, as well as both alkaline and acidic soils. A well-drained loam with a pH value of roughly 6.5 is perfect, but mechanical factors, such as soil compaction, are much more consequential to crop success than soil composition and pH value. Medium to fine-textured, deep, rich in organic matter status, well-drained, having a pH value between 6.5 to 8.0 is perfect for Sugarcane crop. Growing Sugarcane on shallow, coarse-textured soils will result in poor yield. The Sugarcane crop is sensitive to soil salinity and sodicity

Planting Procedure in Organic Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane Seedlings.
Guide to Organic Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane is clonally or vegetatively propagated, to ensure consistent cultivar characteristics. Planting is generally the most expensive procedure in the growing season.

Stalk sections, called “setts,” “billets,” or “seed pieces” containing one or more buds are generally planted in late summer, rooting, and developing into a stand over winter. In this time, the rooting plants are very vulnerable to rot and predation and are thus often sprayed with insecticide and fungicide before being placed in the seedbed.

Planting Time for Sugarcane

Spring season – Mid-February to end of March.

Autumn season – Last fortnight of September to the first fortnight of October.

Row to Row Spacing of Sugarcane
  • 75 cm in less fertile soil, late planting, and under drought condition.
  • 90 cm in fertile soil and under spring season.
  • 120 cm during the autumn season along with intercrops.

Different Methods in Sugarcane Planting;

1. Flat Planting

In this method, shallow (8 to 10 centimetres deep) furrows are opened with a cultivator or local plough at a distance of 75 to 90 centimetres. There should be suitable moisture in the field at the time of planting. The setts are planted in the end to end taking care that one three budded sett falls in each running 30 cm length of the furrow. After these furrows are covered with 5 to 7 cm, so field and soil are levelled by heavy planking. In some tracts of Maharashtra and most of northern India, the cane is planted by this method.

2. Furrow Planting

In this method, furrows are made with a Sugarcane ridger around 10 to 15 centimetres deep in northern India and around 20 centimetres in south India. Setts are planted end to end in the furrows and covered with 5 to 6 centimetres soil, leaving the upper portion of furrows unfilled. Instantly after covering the setts into furrows. This method is practised in Peninsular India and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, particularly in heavy soils.

3. Trench Method

In some coastal areas as well as in other areas where the crop grows very tall and the strong winds in rainy season cause lodging of cane, the trench method is adopted to save the crop from lodging. Trenches at a distance of 75 to 90 centimetres are dug with the help of by manual labour or ridger. Trenches must be about 20 to 25 centimetres deep. After this previously prepared mixture of fertilizers (NPK) should be spread uniformly in the trenches and mixed thoroughly in the soil. Instantly after this, trenches are filled up with loose soil as in case of flat sowing. The tractor-drawn Sugarcane planter is a suitable device for planting cane in trenches.

Irrigation Management in Ogranic Sugarcane Farming

Sugarcane needs regular irrigation at different stages. Provide shallow wetting with 2 to 3 cm depth of water at shorter intervals in the initial stage. During the later stages of tillering, maturity phases, and grand growth, the irrigation intervals can be increased to 8 to 10 days. Irrigation of Sugarcane crops through a drip system with fertilizer nutrient solutions could be adopted so that crop nutrition, as well as water requirements, could be met together.

Surface drainage requirement;

  • Removal of extra rainwater to control soil erosion during the rainy season.
  • Organic farm residue helps to control soil erosion in the rainy season, and conserve water in hot summer.
  • Maintain soil health and fertility
  • Provide workable soil conditions for the farm operation
  • Provide better soil aeration and microenvironment.

Organic Weed Management in Sugarcane Farming

On organic Sugarcane cultivation, weeds are primarily controlled by the below factors;

  • The competitiveness of the Sugarcane itself;
  • A large amount of foliage left out in the field after harvesting;
  • Sowing in the in-between rows;
  • Through mechanical equipment pulled either by animal or machine;
  • Through manual intervention;
  • Although burning is possible, it makes little sense, and is only practicable on new cultivations, because in growth, the mulch material can simply catch fire and there is also a major loss of organic substances.

Application of Organic Manures in Sugarcane Farming

The application of organic manures for maintenance of soil at a high fertility level is almost important. Organic manures improve the chemical, physical as well as biological properties of soil. Organic manures by 20 to 25 tonnes/hectare are to be applied in different forms like Compost, Farm Yard Manure, or Dung Manure. Press mud can also be used as organic manure by 5 tonnes/hectare mainly useful in saline-alkali soils. Sugarcane trash can be used as mulch and sprayed with 100 kg Single Super Phosphate, 80 kg urea, and 10 kg decomposing culture/hectare for better decomposition. Sugarcane trash can also be mixed while making organic manure along with press mud and the use of earthworms for preparing vermicompost.

Crops like dhaincha and sunn hemp are grown as green manure crops. Green manure crops can be grown as a sole crop and buried in the field at an age of 1.5 to 2 months followed by Sugarcane crop. These can also be grown along with Sugarcane by sowing in rows in between 2 rows of Sugarcane and burring in the soil at the time of earthing up. On average, 90 kg nitrogen and 20 tonnes of green matter are added by growing green manure crops.

Organic Nutrients and Fertilization Management in Sugarcane Farming

On organic Sugarcane cultivation, it makes no sense to strive for extreme yields of 200 tonnes or more of foliage per hectare. Based on the site, an organic Sugarcane plot can deliver the best yields of between 45 tonnes and 120 tonnes of foliage.

Apply cattle manure or compost 10tonnes/hectare or press mud 5t/hectare or calcium carbonate 750kg/hectare or dolomite 500kg/hectare. Also, the following fertilizers as N: P 205: k20 kg/ha are also suggested. Apply organic manures such as cattle manure/compost/ press mud as basal dose preferably in furrows and mix well with soil before planting. Apply dolomite/lime/ calcium carbonate in the field before the final preparation of the land.

Apply N and K20 in 2 split doses, the 1st one will be at 45 days after planting and 2nd one will be 90 days after planting along with earthing up do not add N beyond 100 days after planting.

Crop Rotation for Organic Sugarcane Farming

The perfect method is to cultivate Sugarcane in a crop rotation system, yet for economic reasons, this is often difficult. So, the good self-tolerance of Sugarcane, the planting of legumes, the creation of sufficient compensatory tracts and niches, as well as a comprehensive fertilization management system all have to help replace an absence of crop rotation on organic cultivations.

Green manure plants in existing Sugarcane crops;

On older plantation methods, a covering layer of legumes can rapidly be achieved by sowing directly after the harvest. The re-growing Sugarcane and seeds will form a compact, green mass that can be lightly worked into the soil after 3 months before the seedbed is prepared for the new Sugarcane. At sites with strong growth of weeds, it may be worthwhile planting a 2nd  type of rapid-developing green manure plant. If no machines are available to sow directly, then it may help to break over the Sugarcane and subsequently apply 1 or 2 sowings of green manure plants. The green manure plants must be competitive, and able to suppress any weeds that may appear. They must be non-climbing varieties, as these would be harmful to the Sugarcane cultivation.

Sowing legumes in the middle rows;

The gaps between rows and mechanization must be adapted to each other so that directly following the harvest, rapid-growing legumes can be sown in the in-between rows. These will die off after the Sugarcanes have appeared.

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Plant Protection in Organic Sugarcane Farming

Like every single crop, Sugarcane should also be protected from disease pests. Below are some of the major diseases and pests, and their control measures:

Early Shoot borer – Trash mulching along with proper water management and light earthing up on the 35th day. Release of 50 fertilized Sturmiopsis parasite/acre when the crop is at the age of 45 to 60 days.

White grubs – Handpicking and destruction.

Root rot – Strict crop rotation in nurseries/nursery beds; practice crop rotation; Treat seedlings with hot water; choose suitable varieties.

Red rot – Choosing resistant varieties and disease-free bud chips. Destruction of affected clumps.

Wilt – Crop rotation, healthy buds, and optimization of soil moisture.

Sugarcane smuts – Strict crop rotation in nursery beds; treat seedlings with hot water; choose suitable varieties.

Intercropping in Organic Sugarcane Farming

In Sugarcane, intercrops like potato, cowpea, chickpea, green gram, watermelon, wheat and many other crops can be tried, as there is wide spacing between rows. Based on the location-specific factors, different intercrops may be tried.

  • Intercrops control weeds nearly 60% in the initial stage and provide additional income to farmers.
  • They act as a live mulch and preserve moisture and decrease the pest attack by being alternate hosts in some cases. Green manures raised as intercrop increases the soil fertility on incorporation.

When and How to Harvest Sugarcane

Collection and harvesting of the cane should be either mechanical or manual. It has been found that when the cane is harvested and gathered mechanically, by the combined harvester, or manually cut and collected and then grab loaded into large tractor-trolley/trucks. The maturity of Sugarcane is usually recognized by the lower leaves gradually withering up and leaving progressively fewer green leaves at the top. A ripe cane, out across with a sharp knife, shows against sunlight a slight sparkling in its flesh in contrast to the more watery cut surface of an unripe cane. If the grower can maintain and use a hand sugar refractometer, the testing of maturity would be easier.

As far as possible harvesting Sugarcane must be carried out avoiding extremes of weather. In sub-tropical of India, it has been shown that spring harvested plant crop- would result in a better ratoon then that obtained by harvesting in the autumn season. Sugarcane crop is harvested after attending maturity, usually, it starts from Oct and continues till May in sub-tropical states wherein Tropical states harvesting starts from Dec and continues till May.

Harvesting starts when the leaves turn yellow (or when the optimum sugar content of 15% has been reached, that can be tested in the field with a hand refractometer). Very different kinds of techniques are used for organic Sugarcane-based on the country and local conditions, (from automated combine harvesters to cutting by hand and transport via ox and cart). Sugarcane is still generally cut by hand (machete), whereby the stem is cut down close to the soil. The cane leaves and the tip is also cut away. When using heavy machinery care must be taken that the soil is not wet.

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