For the past five years, Amar Patil has been adorned with multiple awards like Vasantrao Naik award, Panjabrao Deshmukh Krushi Ratna, Manushyabal Vikas Lokseva Academy and four more for his farming achievements. This fifth-generation sugarcane grower has achieved ‘record yield’ each year on his sugarcane farm by adopting scientific methods that not only increase his produce but also conserve water.
In eight years of experimenting with different techniques that he himself researched on, the 39-year-old Amar from Sangli district, which is also known as a ‘sugar belt’, in Maharashtra yields 130 tonnes of sugarcane from just one acre of farmland.
With the sugarcane farmers here being accused of ‘wasteful water usage’, Amar tells The Better India how his switch to drip irrigation and improving the pH level of soil has set an example for other farmers.
The scientific way
With a graduate degree in agricultural studies, Amar decided to experiment with farming techniques to increase the yield of sugarcane, thereby improving his income.
“I have been growing the GSK86032 variety of sugarcane since 2006 and would only manage to yield 30-40 tonnes of sugarcane per acre,” Amar says, and adds, “I first changed the watering method of plants from canal irrigation to drip irrigation, supplying only the required quantity of water to the crop. With this the produce increased by 15 per cent.”
He also found out what doesn’t work for a good sugarcane crop. “Some of the stubs of the previous harvest rot or catch infections. Planting them again only affects the growth of the plant. So, I started buying fresh seeds and growing them in a nursery. This exercise ensured a clean crop,” he adds.
With all his efforts, the farmer says that in 2013 his produce reached around 70 tonnes an acre.
Drawn by the desire to touch the 100-acre mark, Amar started studying soil and working on improving its quality. “I took help from my nephew who has a bachelors in agriculture. I also consulted agricultural experts from government departments and took help from other farmers to understand the factors affecting soil productivity and fertility,” he says.
Speaking about his learnings along the way, Amar says, “I learned about various aspects such as changing pH levels of the soil before and after harvest. The moisture content and the micronutrients that change through the cycle of the crop. How the quality of soil deteriorates if only one crop is cultivated for long.”
To improve the pH levels of the soil, Amar started mixing river water with groundwater. “The salts in the hard river water were hardening the soil further and spoiling its characteristics. I ensured that more fresh water was used for irrigating for the farm. The pH levels also maintained at 5.5,” he says, adding that slowly, he stopped watering the groundwater entirely by pumping water from the river.
Amar says that for micronutrients he started incorporating intercropping methods — a multiple cropping practices — on his 14-acre farm. “I carved out a three-acre plot, divided it into equal parts, and decided to not repeat sugarcane on the same land for more than two consecutive years in a row. After harvesting the sugarcane, the land is used to plant green grams, turmeric, sweet potato, chillies, soybean and tomatoes,” the farmer adds.
He says the exercise ensured at least one year gap for the crop on the same land.
Reaping what you sow
“To add valuable nutrients to the plants, I added organic manure, compost and other natural nutrients like tree branches, twigs and flower waste. There was the least use of chemical fertilisers. I put it only when there is any expert advice and in minimum quantity, depending on the requirement,” Amar says.
After years of efforts and research, in 2017, the farmer yielded 100-tonne produce from just one acre of his land. “I was overwhelmed,” says Amar, adding, “Farmers from the neighbourhood started visiting my farm to see the massive yield.”
The same year he was awarded the Vasantrao Naik award, which is given to recognise outstanding research applications in dryland farming systems and water conservation.
In 2019, Amar shares he got a surplus yield of 130 tonnes from one-acre land, earning him Rs 3.5 lakh from sugarcane crop alone.
Today, looking at his perseverance, many farmers have started adopting the techniques followed by Amar. “There are now a handful of farmers who have achieved 100 tonnes, or more, the yield from one acre of land,” says District Superintendent Agriculture Officer at Sangli, Baswaraj Mastoli, adding, “Land availability is reducing, and more production is needed from less land.”
Baswaraj adds that more experiential farmers can research and adopt scientific methods to use precise techniques and yield results. “Intercropping also helps in adding to the farmer’s income through multiple crops sown through the seasons,” he adds. However, Amar reveals that though he had the expertise, getting the right equipment was a struggle. He says, “Along with the right suggestions, it is important to have the right quality seeds, drip irrigation pipes and the organic fertilisers. It was a difficult task to identify the right products and follow timely procedures.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)