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Nutrient management for crops

By TC Sood

In India, farmers have traditionally used urea mainly because it is a cheap fertiliser. This helps in foliage formation, and this leads to insect and pest problems.

For crops such as oil seeds, it is far better to use more balanced fertilisers with more emphasis on organic manures (such as farmyard manures) for better seed setting, improved oil content and oil quality. However deficiencies of secondary nutrients like calcium and sulphur in oilseeds, pulses and maize, and that of micronutrients in all these crops affects their productivity adversely. Similarly, soil acidity in upland areas, and soil alkalinity / salinity in low lying and water logging prone areas adversely affects growth and yields of these crops.

There are some critical inputs that are needed by pulses and other crops as secondary and micronutrients:

Gypsum / pyrites / liming agents
Gypsum, pyrites or rock phosphate are the cheapest sources of important secondary nutrients. Their application is known to increase both production and oil content in oilseed crops and yield and quality of pulses and maize. Gypsum application requires special attention and thrust because farmers mostly use non-sulphur containing fertilisers like DAP and mixtures. High transport costs is one of the major constraints for farmers in using gypsum.

Bacterial agents
Rhizobium culture and phosphate solubilising bacteria (PSB) are bacteria that enable crops to fix crucial inputs from the soil.

Rhizobium culture is one of the cheapest inputs in increasing production of pulses and other leguminous crops. The treatment of seed with this culture helps in fixation of atmospheric nitrogen through its symbiotic activity. The treatment is particularly beneficial in areas where groundnut and soybean are a new introduction.

PSB has a capacity to release phosphorus and has been recommended as one of the low cost inputs for all crops. It helps to reduce nearly 20 per cent of phosphatic fertiliser input to crops.

But though the treatment of seed with these cultures is highly recommended, it is necessary to follow certain precautions for usage:

The culture should be obtained from a reliable source. It should not be outdated. The date of expiry should be checked before using the culture. Only cultures with ISI/BIS specifications / standards should be used.
The culture should be well protected from heat and light during transportation and storage. It should not be stored in places contaminated with either pesticides or fertilisers.
Before using the culture, please ensure that the culture is meant for that specific crop.
The seed treatment with culture should be done either on the same day or on the previous night. After treatment, the treated seed should not be exposed to sunlight or high temperatures, as this kills the bacteria present in the culture. As far as possible, it should be stored at lower temperatures. Rooms contaminated with either pesticides or with fertiliser materials should not be used for storing the culture.
It is advisable that the sowing operation is undertaken either early in the morning or in the evening, so that mortality of the bacteria is reduced to minimum.
If the culture does not possess stickiness, then either rice starch or jaggery solution should be used to moisten the seed, so that the culture sticks to the seed coat.
Most pesticides are toxic to culture. Thiram is the least toxic fungicide and dieldrin least toxic insecticide. If these chemicals are used, culture treatment (slurry-inoculate) should be given to seed (after pesticide treatment) with double the normal dose.
Slurry-inoculated with Rhizobium culture should never be mixed with super-phosphate as this is acidic and will kill the bacteria. In case of PSB, in acidic or alkaline soils, treated seed may be sown after coating with calcium carbonate or gypsum.
The culture use is specifically recommended in areas where the crop is being grown for the first time. In such areas, culture application should be repeated for two to three years continuously. In rice fallow areas the use of culture is very beneficial; because of anaerobic conditions in rice fields, there is mortality of native rhizobia.
PSB can be mixed with Rhizobium. The bio-fertiliser should be mixed in equal quantity and applied as mentioned above. The response to PSB is very good in acidic soils.

Source: DAC note on National Pulses Development Project (NPDP) and Integrated Scheme Of Oilseeds, Pulses, Oilpalm & Maize (ISOPOM)

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