Dr. Tasneem Mubarak
Over the past few decades there has been a great transformation of agriculture land into its horticultural variant. When we compare the data of year 2008-09 with that of 2018-19, area expansion under apple in Kashmir in general and district Kulgam , in particular, has been phenomenal during this decade. Increase in area is to the extent of around 21%in Valley including Ladakh and 40% in Kulgam during this period, which signifies its high adoption among farmers. The process does not stop here as the interest of farmers towards modern apple farming (High Density) is increasing day by day. Thus more area expansion is expected in the future as well. In the routine field visits to apple orchards we come across newly established apple orchards where space is not properly utilized. As a matter of fact, varieties grafted on traditional root stock(seedlings) come to bearing at around 6-8 years of planting or even later. This period is called the juvenile phase. During this phase we can put the land to the best use of resources by selecting a suitable intercrop. Intercropping means cultivation of two or more crops at the same time in the same field with an intension to produce more in a given area and to take advantage of the resources like nutrients water, sunlight and in fact the available space. Though farmers are practicing intercropping in the apple orchards but many do it wrongly.
The basic principal of intercropping is to choose a crop for intercropping which does not harm the main crop but should be supportive to the main crop. Cultivation of pulses and other short stature leguminous crops in apple orchards is a prime example of good intercropping. The resource requirement especially nutrient and water requirement of intercrop should not in any way have negative impact on main crop say apple. It is a general practice of farmers to cultivate vegetable crops in apple orchards that may be more water and nutrient exhaustive. Both these situations are harmful for the apple crop. Crops requiring frequent irrigation like many vegetables may result in certain problems in terms of disease and pest incidence and nutrient dynamics. Frequent irrigation for instances may cause root and collar rot disease in apple. Increased inflow of water may enhance humidity which in turn boosts foliar diseases and insect pests. Thus choosing a right intercrop is of immense significance in apple based cropping system.
In the valley we can grow pulses and other legumes including moong, cowpeas, bush type rajmash, soybean, clover, beseem, peas and so on, as intercrop for maximum benefits. Growing these crops as intercrop may results in risk minimization, effective use of available resources including water, nutrients and sunlight, efficient use of family labour, increased crop productivity and also contributes towards food and nutritional security. Moreover, pest and disease incidence reduces due to diversity of crops grown, which act as a biological barrier between plants of the same species. Increase of total farm production and profitability, reduction of weed population through allelopathic effect and faster covering of open space which otherwise is available for weed growth and erosion control are other benefits. Since these intercrops provides a good soil cover, the soil temperature may stay relatively low and thus burning of the organic matter in the soil is slow and loss of nutrients is reduced.
In addition to this these crops contribute to the nutrient pool in the soil through nitrogen fixation and thus may largely curtail the fertilizer nitrogen requirement. Since fixed nitrogen satisfies major proportion of their nitrogen requirement, so introduction of these crops in the cropping system helps in conserving inherent soil nitrogen which is rendered available to the accompanying non-legume crop or the succeeding crop. Even fallen leaves also contribute to nitrogen reserves in a legume based cropping system. It is not just nitrogen but phosphorous availability in the soil is also increased as they exude certain organic acids which are helpful in solubilizing the unavailable or sparingly available soil phosphorus. This way availability of P is enhanced and both the crops get benefitted out of it. Moreover, fallen leaves and the crop residues left after the harvesting when incorporated in the soil add organic matter, which in turn is a good source of nutrients including micronutrients.
Research indicates that pulses lower soil pH in the rhizosphere (narrow region of soil in the proximity of root). Since higher pH decreases availability of most of the micronutrient, sometimes to starvation levels, therefore pulses as intercrop help in maintaining a conducive environment for increased micronutrient availability by lower PH. In some orchards especially at higher altitudes farmers are cultivating crops like maize and fodder oat as intercrop. These crops are exhaustive and deplete nutrients form soil. Thus they have a negative impact on main apple crop. Maize is more problematic in terms of its exhaustive nature and tall stature. It not only competes for nutrients but also for sunlight and air in a newly established orchard. Poor ventilation and shading effect reduces photosynthesis and encourages disease and pest incidence due to increased humidity. Thus intercropping with pulses and other leguminous crops is quite beneficial in apple based cropping system especially in view of deficit in pulse and fodder availability in the state. Some other crops can also be grown as intercrop but they must not harm the apple crop. For any technical guidance on this or any other aspect related to farming, all interested can approach the KVKs of their respective districts, Directorate of Extension SKUASK-Kashmir main campus at Shalimar, Faculty of Agriculture Wadura or other stations/centers located in different parts of valley.
—The author is a Sebior Scientist & Head KVK-Kulgam,SKUAST-Kashmir. He can be reached at: email@example.com