Thanks to drip irrigation, the drought in the state seems to have barely affected the horticulture farmers in Coimbatore district. While horticulture cultivation in the district has come down only by 6% this year, statistics with the horticulture department show that vegetable cultivation has gone up by 600 hectares or around 9%, due to increase in cultivation of onion.
Data shows that almost 50% of the land in the district under fruits, spices, vegetables and flower cultivation is drip irrigated. In 2016-2017, 36,539 hectares of horticulture crops were cultivated in the district against cultivation on 39,000 hectares in the previous financial year. "While the acreage under fruits, spices and flowers has come down in the district, the area under vegetable cultivation has actually increased by 600 hectares. So acreage wise, we do not see much of a difference from the previous year yet," said the deputy director of horticulture, A Ramakrishnan. "But the cultivation this year has witnessed a noticeable drop when compared to that in 2014-2015 - when we had good rains," he said.
While acreage under crops like banana, turmeric and tomato has fallen by 200 hectares to 300 hectares, area under onions has gone up. "Banana and turmeric are long-term crops that require more water and so does tomato to give a good yield. Thus, many farmers have turned to vegetables like onions, chillies and lady's finger which are less fleshy and require less water," said Ramakrishnan.
The area under plantation crops too has increased by 1,000 hectares, mainly because cocoa inter-crop plantations were also taken into account. Officials attribute the farmers' confidence to cultivate even in the face of such a severe drought, to drip irrigation. "In the district, only farmers with assured water and irrigation facilities bother cultivating their land. They stopped completely relying on rainfall many years ago," said Vasanthi Gnanasekharan, assistant director of horticulture department, Thondamuthur block.
"In our district, if you remove the 15,000 hectares of plantation crops like tea, coffee, banana and cocoa from the equation, at least 50% of the remaining 21,000 hectares of cultivable land are drip irrigated," said Ramakrishnan. "Drip irrigation becomes critical during drought situations, because with one large tank of water, we can add the required fertilizer and water almost five acres for four days," said A Veeramani, a chilly farmer in Madukkarai. "In normal situations, the water stock would get over in a day or two, and will not cover the entire five acres," he said.
The horticulture department now targets getting the entire area under fruit, vegetable and spice cultivation in the district under drip irrigation within the next five years. "We hope to achieve our targets within three years or maximum five years," said Ramakrishnan. "The government's subsidies of 75% to 100% for the programme also play a major role in achieving our target," he said.