Agritech

Commercial Crop of Choice for Drought Prone areas of Southern Peninsula


Sunflower is one of the important crops in India's oil seed production that has contributed to rapid growth in oilseed production during late eighties and early 1990s. Sunflower is the oil of preference among the consumers' world over due to its health appeal and in India too, sunflower oil is the largest selling oil in the branded oil segment. Sunflower is also a crop of choice for farmers due to its wider adaptability, high yield potential, shorter duration and profitability. The crop, during mid nineties, was cultivated in nearly 2.5 Mn Ha (Million Hectare) contributing to 2 Mn MT of sunflower seed production in the country.

The Government, convinced of the potential of Sunflower in contributing to self-sufficiency in edible oil, has strongly promoted cultivation of the crop by farmers on a large scale. This is done with a two pronged approach - first by Technology Mission on Oilseeds which promotes scientific cultivation of Sunflower to improve productivity levels and secondly by restricting import of edible oils through import tariff interventions to ensure better commodity price for domestic sunflower growers. Recently, the government has increased import duty on edible oils, up to 92% to ensure better commodity price to our farmers.

Farmers find sunflower as a highly profitable crop, especially in Southern peninsula, consisting of Northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Rayalseema, where the crop is largely cultivated under rainfed conditions during late kharif/rabi season. Due to its short duration, it ideally is sown more between August and October. Sunflower also scores favourably against the traditional cultivated crops like rabi Jowar, Bajra, Castor and Pulses during the late Kharif/early rabi season due to following advantages.

1. Short duration (80-115 days)

2. Suitability to grow in rainfed conditions. The areas of Rayalseema, Marathwada and Karnataka are mainly rainfed and hence the drought tolerant capabilities of some hybirds like PAC-36 of Advanta do provide the farmers in these areas with a better option.

3. Ability to perform in diverse agro-climatic and soil conditions. The incidence of pests and diseases on Sunflower crop is also easily manageable with timely preventive and curative measures. The only major investment the farmer makes is the cost of hybrid seed.

4. Sunflower, being a commercial crop, offers attractive price for the produce and the economics of the crop is highly profitable compared to other crops in similar maturity groups.

More importantly, in case of Sunflower the farmer has a wide range of high performing hybrids that maximise farm income through their potential to respond to good management conditions. Most of these hybrids are supplied by reputed private seed companies such as Advanta Limited (formerly ITC Zeneca Limited), Cargil, PHI, PSCL, Syngenta and others. The farmer has to choose the right hybrids that suit the crop growing season, soil condition, irrigation and adaptability to local conditions.

The farmers can substantially increase their income from Sunflower by paying attention to the following important cultivation aspects.

1. Selection of right hybrid

Selection of the right sunflower hybrid is critical as the final income is dependant on both grain and oil yields. As not all hybrids available in the market maximise both grain and oil yields, farmers need to be cautious while choosing the hybrids. In this aspect, it is appropriate to mention that some of the hybrids like PAC-36, PAC-8699 and PAC-1091 provide both high grain and oil yields. These hybrids, which are also notified by the government, have potential to yield upto 10 quintals/acre with oil content of >40%, under right growing and management conditions.

2. Time of Sowing and Duration of Hybrid

Farmers need to give very careful consideration to the time of sowing and based on which hybrids of right duration are to be selected. Predominantly, the farmers in Rayalseema, Marathwada and Karnataka traditionally either keep the land fallow or take up pulses or green manure crop with the start of the first rains and then take up sunflower starting from August to mid of October. Farmers in southern peninsula have realised higher yields by sowing the crop during these months. Longer duration hybrids (>95 days) are to be sown in the early season while medium-short duration hybrids (85-95 days) give better results, if sown later. Few companies like Advanta, offer the full range of sunflower hybrids in all the maturity groups.

3. Plant Nutrients

Better yields in sunflower can only be realised by applying recommended dosage of fertilisers. Particularly, of importance are, application of phosphorous, potash and micronutrients like sulphur and boron. These nutrients, apart from improving plant health and increasing grain yields, also help in improving grain weight and oil content. Proper crop rotation with legumes and other cereal/vegetable crops also helps in conserving soil nutrients and lower incidence of pests and diseases on Sunflower.

4. Irrigation/rainfall

Soil moisture, if available in adequate measure, during critical stages of vegetative growth, flowering and seed setting enhances grain and oil yield.

5. Pest and Disease Management

Recommended preventive measures and usage of right hybrids provide protection to many of the common pests and diseases in Sunflower. Preventive sprays of pesticides before the first 50 days prevent attack by Heliothes and infestation of Alternaria. Outbreak of viral diseases can also be prevented by sowing the crop after July and by controlling sucking pests like thrips with timely spray of systemic insecticide in the first 40 days. Farmers are suggested to refer to package of practices recommended by local agricultural universities or information provided by the seed companies. When compared with other competing crops in similar maturity groups, Sunflower is indeed very profitable. The profitability of the crop also depends on the commodity price.Government of India has recently raised the default rate of import duty on all edible oils up to 92%, as a result of which the commodity price has already seen a rise of Rs.150-200/- per qtl in the past 2 months.

Farmers would get maximum benefits from this crop by following the simple cultivation practices already explained above. The present regime of higher import duty and the advantages which this versatile crop provides in terms of ideal fit across different cropping seasons and crop cycles, makes Sunflower the crop of choice for all farmers, especially those in Rayalseema, Karnataka and Marathwada.

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