"DRIP IRRIGATION is a boon to cotton farmers. I got high yields from cotton by installing drip irrigation system in my cotton field eight years ago. The crop came to picking early, and yielded more with less water. I could expand the cotton area substantially with the same quantity of water,'' said Mr. Ravindra Ramdas Patil, a progressive farmer of Jarandi village in Soygaon taluk of Aurangabad district, Maharashtra.
This 32-year-old resourceful pharmacist-turned-farmer won the `Sheti Nishta' (best farmer) award for harvesting 50 quintals cotton per hectare using a long staple hybrid cotton `RCH-2'. "The high yield could be possible with the use of drip irrigation combined with other management practices and of course, the good hybrid cotton seeds," he acknowledged. Mr. Patil is growing cotton in about 10 hectares, and is also growing Bt cotton. He sowed the seeds in May-June, and used about 1125 g seeds to cover a hectare.
A spacing of 1.5 m between the rows and 75 cm between the plants was the spacing he adopted. Only one seed was used per hole. Liberal application of farm yard manure (about 15 tonnes a hectare was applied, and a basal dose of complex fertilizer of 250 kg per hectare was applied. About 25 kg micronutrients were also added as basal dressing, according to him.
About four rounds of plant protection chemicals with a fungicide were sprayed to keep off sucking pests such as jassids, thrips, aphids and white fly.
In the case of Bt cotton, he had to spray only twice, and the additional cost incurred in buying the Bt cotton seeds was more than compensated by the savings in the plant protection measures, according to Mr. Patil. He installed on-line turbo-key dripper at a cost of Rs. 33,500 per hectare in 1995, and he also got a subsidy of 50 per cent on the cost of the micro-irrigation system at that time.
"By installing drip system, we could save more water and electricity. There were fewer pests in the crop irrigated with drip system, and eventually the spending on plant protection came down. We could get pickings early (at least by about 30 days), and got more money by selling the cotton at a premium price. Drip-irrigation also formed part of the integrated pest management (IPM) strategy as it helped the crop escape from the pests, especially the bollworms, because of the earliness. The germination was uniform and we could save at least 50 per cent of the cost of seeds. The even stand of the crop assured a good returns for us," he said.
"Several farmers in the village have installed the drip system, and it is useful in the early days of establishment of the crop. In the early days after sowing minimal watering near the seeds will do for uniform germination. About 10-15 minutes of watering per day is enough during May. Weed management is also ensured as wetting is done only where the seeds are sown," explained Mr. K.B. Patil, Manager (Tissue Culture and Agricultural Services), Jain Irrigation Systems Limited, Jalgaon. "After the main crop, I leave the plants in the field, and get a ratoon crop from January to March to get another four pickings," he says. The total cost of cultivation of hybrid cotton was Rs. 50,000 per hectare, and the yield he got was an average 37. 5 quintal of seed cotton per hectare in the main crop and about 7.5 quintals in the ratoon crop.
For the ratoon, about 125 kg of NPK complex fertilizer was added. The cotton was sold at Rs. 2000 per quintal, according to him. Only the hybrid cotton with multi-flushing traits could yield the ratoon, and the Bt cotton did not possess this trait, he said.
"Drip-irrigation is a good option for cotton farmers. But the initial investment is very high. This has to be brought down to make it more attractive to growers," said Mr. Anil Damu Patil, another progressive farmer. This lawyer-turned-farmer has reaped bumper cotton harvests using the micro-irrigation system.