Indian soil has gone through lot of hardships, if I may say. The soil quality and soil health has deteriorated considerably. We now require a lot more input to continuously achieve the same level of production year after year. But it seems that every rose has its thorn.
Some farmers have recognised this and are taking innovative measures to control soil properties. I was fortunate enough to interact with many farmers and I am glad that I met Mr Sundaraman Iyer from Sathyamanglam block of Erode district. He grows turmeric, lady’s finger and also grow casurina. He is on a journey to educate fellow farmers about the novel ways which was practised traditionally long time back. He along with his son Krishnan Iyer have developed extra- ordinary practises to grow crops organically. We can learn many things from him and he is truly a remarkable person to meet.
Mr Sundaraman Iyer proclaims that this knowledge which he has acquired is not of his alone but a culmination of all those farmers with whom he had interacted all those years.
His field was part of much research and quite a lot of experiments were done during the Green Revolution. “I have seen it all. My field was sprayed with all kinds of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Having part of many trials gave me insight into how soil chemistry works.” projects Sundaraman Iyer.
The soil is farmer’s greatest wealth. As of all wealth, it can also be quantified. We need to understand the components that make up the soil. The solid component makes up to 50 percent and water and air occupies the remaining part equally. The solid part contains silt, sand and clay which are the inorganic part. This is nearly 45 percent in a healthy soil and remaining is clocked up by organic matter. This organic matter is food for the microorganisms and earthworms.
Now we have a clue about the soil health. A good healthy soil will have greater organic matter (4-5 percent). Anything below this is surely not sustainable. A farmer is sure to find his farm yield go down in future if the soil is not healthy. Thus it can be said that organic matter decides the wealth of farmer. But alas the average organic matter is just 0.5 to 0.1 percent. Hence I draw one more conclusion that our average Indian farmer is poor.
“I have myself found the yields unsustainable. This cannot go on forever. Ultimately we have to think about what we are doing to our soil” said Sundaraman.
“My field has organic matter upwards of 7 percent and way above the average farmer has and anyone can achieve this.” I was eager to know more. Was it a bluff or another shot by a random guy? He explains” soil contains both beneficial and non-beneficial microorganisms. Chemicals provide the opportunity for non-beneficial organisms to take the dominant hand. They disintegrate only the toxic nutrients.” But what are these beneficial and non-beneficial organisms? These beneficial bacteria take up root exudates in the rhizosphere and provide the roots with nutrients. These non-beneficial organisms like fungi and viruses cause all kinds of diseases in the plant.
So how can we increase these useful organisms? Apparently, these organisms survive and thrive well in the soil having high organic matter. “Anyone can increase the microbial activity of their soil that too within 200 days.” guarantees Sundaraman. All that the farmer has to do is start multi-varietal seed sowing.
“Take 4 Kg each of millets, pulses, oilseeds, spices and greens. Each category of seeds like millets should have 4-5 different crops. In oilseeds, you can have sunflower, mustard, gingelly and castor.” says the innovative farmer. There are no hard defined rules in this technique. “The farmer can use what is available. All that is required is different seeds of all types of crops. The seeds are mixed and broadcasted at 20-30 Kg per acre rate” asserts Sundaraman.
“Allow the plants to germinate and grow for 60 days. After this, the lush green growth is incorporated back into the field. Continue this by allowing the growth and cut back into the soil.” he explains in detail. He further elaborates “The first cut adds 5 tons and subsequent cuts add 20 tons and 75 tons of biomass to the field.”
This technique is for fields which are unproductive. After every crop harvest Mr Sundaraman Iyer follows this multi-varietal seed sowing but for only a month or two. He never leaves the field uncovered. Doing so, he says that the volatile carbon is lost to the atmosphere. The sun rays should not reach the soil directly. Microorganisms require both organic material and moisture for the rapid growth.
He showed us his field of turmeric. There were no major disease symptom and no pest attack which was astonishing to see. The soil was soft and porous. A walk in the field was so refreshing and I knew that something is really happening inside the soil. Seeing this made me believe that soils do have life and they do breathe.
Agriculture graduate. His Interest spans from reading books, solving Sudoku and an avid fan of economics and organic farming. firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article was originally published in ‘The Agraria’ e-Magazine. You can Subscribe it by clicking here)