Cropping system: Cropping activities go on all round the year in India provided water is available for crops. In northen India there are two distinct seasons: rainy, kharif (July to October), and winter, rabi (October to March). The crops grown between March and June are known as zaid crop.
In some parts of the country there are no such distinct seasons, but there they have their own classification of seasons.The village revenue officials keep plot-wise record of crops grown in each season. These are annually compiled district-wise, state-wise and on all-India basis. From these records, the relative abundance of a crop or a group of crops in a region can be calculated.
These crops are grown sole or mixed (mixed cropping), or in a definite sequence (rotational cropping). The land may be occupied by one crop during one season (monocropping), or by two crops (double cropping), which may be grown in a year in a sequence. Of late, the trend is even towards growing more than two crops (multiple cropping) in a year.
These intensive cropping system may be taken either in sequence or there may be even relay cropping-one crop undersown in a standing crop. With wide-rowed, slow growing crops, companion crops may be grown. There are various ways of utilizing the land intensively.
Factors for selection of a cropping system
In any locality, the prevalent cropping system are the cumulative results of the past and present decisions by individuals, communities or government and their agencies.
These decisions are usually based on experience, tradition, expected profit, personal preferences and resources, social and political pressure. Essentially, these are answers to some of the following questions:
(a) What crops with the present methods of pest-and-disease control are ecologically practicable?
(b) What interactions occur among the ecologically practicable crops, and the chosen crops which must be combined in a special way (rotations) in the farming systems?
(c) Are any of the ecologically feasible crops ruled out by infrastructural factors?
(d) Which of the crops, now remaining of the list, are most profitable ? In what combinations and at what level of input application would they make the best use of local land, Climate and input resources in the short-term and long-term situations bearing in mind the degree of food and income security required by the individual farmer and the community ?
(e) What operational factors rule out or amend the size and the method of any of the economically preferable crop combinations thereof ?
(f) Finally, are the crop combinations, the farming systems and the input level suggested by this process for the individual farmer compatible with his own skills, enterprise preferences, health, age and capital ?
Brief history of developing efficient cropping system in India
Nearly 70 years ago, Dr A.B. Stewart of Macaulay Institute of Soil Research, Aberdeen was invited by the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, to review the position in respect of soil fertility investigations, in general, and manuring in particular, and to suggest steps that might be taken to obtain optimum crop yields.
His review report published in 1947, significantly changed philosophy and practice of fertilizer experimentation in the country. He stressed the need of conducting simple fertilizer trials on cultivators fields and complex experiments at selected centres. Prompted by these suggestions, “Simple Fertilizer Trails on Cultivators Fields” were initiated in 1953 under the Indo-American Technology Co-operation Agreement as “Soil Fertility and Fertilizer use project”.
Subsequently in 1956, experiments on carefully selected centres called “Model Agronomic Experiments” were added to the project and started as All-India Coordinated Agronomic Experiments Scheme (AICAES) as an ICAR Project in continuation of Technical Co-operation Mission (TCM) of fertilizer use project.
The major objectives of Model Agronomic Experiments were to study interactions of fertilizer irrigation and with other input factors, such as irrigation, sowing date and cultural practices on crop yields, and work out manurial/fertilizer requirements of important crop rotations.
The scope of experimentation was expanded to include agronomic research, embracing cultural practices, irrigation and nutritional requirements, chemical weed control and multiple cropping. But the emphasis continued on soil fertility and fertilizer use as influenced by soil and climatic factors and management.
Systems based research was initiated during the early seventies as a part of this programme, but it was only during Five-Year Plan that the All-India Co-ordinated Research Project was upgraded into full-fledged Project Directorate for “Cropping System” Research to strengthen all aspects of research in cropping/farming systems.
At present, the Project Directorate undertakes research through country-wide cropping systems network, which consists of 37 on-station research centres (25 main centres and 12 sub-centres) and 32 on-farm research centres.
Main centres are necessarily located at agriculture universities, whereas sub-centres are in various campuses and agricultural colleges as well as general universities. The on-farm research centres operate in different agro-climatic zones (ZARP Zones), and after every 3 years these centres are usually shifted from one zone to the other.
Broad objectives of the cropping systems research network include development of economically Viable and resourceefficient cropping systems, improvement in use efficiency of nutrients and other inputs and resource characterization, problem diagnosis and prioritization of researchable issues under various farming situations.
An effort has been made here to collate the significant system-based information generated under All-India Co-ordinated Project on “Cropping System” Research, suitably supported by researchers done elsewhere in the country.
Types of cropping system
Sequential cropping system
First types of cropping system — sequential multiple cropping, using short-duration crop cultivars and intensive input management, is a common way of increasing land-use efflciency (LUE). specially in irrigated ecosystems. In the experiments carried out in different parts of the country, multiple cropping systems with high LUE have been identified.
These studies clearly established that LUE can be enhanced by choosing intensive cropping system, although for wider acceptability of any cropping system LUE needs to be linked with other important parameters like productivity and profitability. In multilocational experiments under cropping system Research Project, promising cropping systems with high productivity as well as intensive land use of diverse agro climate situations have been identified.
The economic return or monetary gain per unit area and time is one of the major considerations for adoption of a certain cropping systems at farm as well as at regional level. Its relative importance decreases under subsistence level of farmin g but increases with increasing level of commercialization.
Since profitability of the system as a whole or a component thereof depends entirely upon input costs and prices of the produce, it is highly vulnerable to change in government policies, trade and market force operating at a given point of time.
Extensive studies carried out under ‘cropping Systems‘ Research Project have resulted in identification of several land-use efficient and profitable intercropping systems in different regions of the country.
The more remunerative intercropping systems found were those of castor + clusterhean at S.K. Nagar in arid eco-system, maize+blackgram at Banswara, sorghum + pigeonpea at Indore, pigeonpea + greengram at Bichpuri, cotton + groundnut at Junagadh : under semi-arid ecosystem; wheat + linseed at Sehore, maize + groundnut at Ranchi, rice + soybean at Jabalpur; under subhumid ecosystem: rice + groundnut at Kalyani under humid ecosystem; and wheat + mustard at Navasari, mustard + blackgram and maize + cowpea at Karjat under coastal ecosystem.
In on-farm trails, intercropping of groundnut + sunflower during kharif and groundnut + pigeonpea during rabi in Medak, Prakasam and Cuddapah districts of Andhra Pradesh; pigeonpea + groundnut in Ranchi district of Bihar; wheat + mustard and chickpea + mustard in western zone of Haryana; pigeonpea + sunflower in Bellary and fingermillet + pigeonpea in Bangalore districts ofKarnataka; and wheat + chickpea, chickpea + mustard in Mandla and Morena and chickpea + mustard in Ujjan and Ratlam districts of Madhya Pradesh were found more economical than sole cropping.
Simiarly, intercropping of chickpea + mustard in Udaipur and Tonk and pearl millet + greengram in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan; pigeonpea + groundnut in north central plateu of Orissa, wheat + mustard in Nasik and Dhule districts of Maharashtra; blackgram + groundnut in Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu; and wheat + mustard during rabi followed by maize + blackgram and pigeonpea + sorghum during kharif in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh were found more remunerative than their pure cropping under rainfed situations. In most of the cases application of recommended dose of fertilizer to main as well as associated intercrop was found desirable.
Planting geometry plays an important role of optimising yield levels in intercropping systems. Normal planting of intercrop between two rows of normal-planted main crop gave higher yield than paired and skip row planting in semi-arid eco-system.
In humid eco-system, paired row planting gave better results than normal and skip row planting. In general, yield of main crop was comparatively lower in skip-row planting system. Results at various centres also indicated that growing crop without any fixed geometry (crop mixture) was always inferior to intercropping with appropriate geometry of planting.
Growing of annual crops with multi-purpose perennial shrubs/trees, known as alley cropping, is another way of increasing production potential under fragile environments. The cropping system is being recommended to meet food, fodder and fuel needs besides improving soil fertility. On salt-affected alluvial soil of Modipuram, alley cropping of upland rice-wheat sequence with Leucaena leucocephala was found to be economical as well as beneficial for improving soil productivity on long-term basis.
The system was identified as a potential alternative cropping system for best utilization of such lands. A study on land use in semi-arid tropics revealed higher profitability and land use with 25% agroforestry and 7590 arable cropping.
The age-old practice of excessive tillage not only deteriorates soil structure, which is very difficult to regenerate, but also involves high amount of energy (fuel and draught animal). Tillage practices adopted in one crop influence the establishment and performance for succeeding crops. Continuous tillage at a particular depth (15-20 cm) results in the formation of plow/hard plan, which affects the distribution and growth of roots of main and succeeding crop in a system.
A broad position of the major cropping system in India can be presented by taking the major crOps into consideration. To begin with, the south-westem monsoon crops (kharif) are considered. They include rice, sorghum (in kharif), pearl millet (bajra), maize, finger millet (ragi), groundnut and cotton. Among the post-monsoon crops (in rabi), wheat, sorghum (in rabi) and chickpea (gram) can also be considered to be base crops for describing the cropping patterns.
With such an approach the crop occupying the highest percentage of the sown area of the region is taken as the base crop and all other possible alternative crops sown in the region either as substitutes for the base crop in the same season or as the crops that fit in with the rotation in the subsequent seasons, are considered in the pattern. Also these crops have been identified as associated with a particular type of agroclimate, and some other minor crops with similar requirements are grouped under one category.
For example, wheat, barley and cats are taken as one category. Similarly, the minor millets (Paspalum, Setaria and Panicum) are grouped with sorghum or pearl millet. Some other crops, viz. the plantation crops and other industrial crops, are discussed separately.
Rainy season cropping system
Among the kharif crops, rice, sorghum, pearl millet, maize, groundnut and cotton are the prominent crops to be considered the base crops for describing the kharif cropping pattern.
Rice-based cropping system: Rice is grown in the high-rainfall area or in areas where supplemental irrigation is available to ensure good yields. If the crop has to depend solely on rainfall, it requires not less than 30 cm/month of rainfall over the entire growing period. However, only 9% of the area in the country comes under this category, and it lies in the eastern parts. Nearly 45% 0f the total rice area in India receives 30 cm/month of rainfall during at least 2 months (July and August) of the south-western monsoon and lesser during other months.
With supplemental irrigation 2 or 3 crops are taken in these areas. At All-India basis, nearly 80% of rice is sown during June-September and the rest during the remaining season. Area-wise, the mono-season belt (comprising Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh) accounts for 46.4%, and belt comprising Asom, West Bengal, coastal Orissa, coastal Andhra Pradesh, parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala accounts for 53.6%.
Kharif cereals other than rice: Maize, sorghum and pearl millet form the main khari cereals, whereas fingermillet and small millets come next and are grown in a limited area. By and large, maize is a crop grown commonly in high-rainfall areas or on soil with a better capacity for retaining moisture, but with good drainage.
Next comes sorghum in the medium-rainfall regions, whereas pearl millet has been the main crop in the areas with low or less-dependable rainfall and on light-textured soils. The extent of the area under these crops during the south-western monsoon seasons for maize is 5.6 million ha, sorghum (kharif) 11 million ha, and pearl millet 9.4 million ha.
Finger millet as a kharif cereal (1.9 million ha) is mainly concentrated in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which account for more than 60% of the total area under this crop in India. The cropping patterns based on each of these kharif cereals are discussed.
Maize-based cropping system: The largest area under kharif maize is in Uttar Pradesh (1.07 million ha), followed by Rajasthan (0.91 million ha), Madhya Pradesh (0.86 million ha) and Bihar (0.72 million ha). In four states, mainly Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, the area under maize ranges from 0.30 to 0.38 million ha in each, whereas other states have much less area under it. Taking the rainfall of the maize growing area into consideration, over 72% of the area receive 20-30 cm/month of rainfall in at least two months or more during the south-western monsoon season.
On the all-India basis, about 12 cropping patterns have been identified. They have maize as the base crop. In the maize-growing areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, rice in kharif and wheat in rabz’ are the main alternative crops. In some areas, pearl millet, groundnut, sugarcane, finger millet and pulses are taken as alternative crops.
In Rajasthan, maize is grown as an exclusive crop in some areas, whereas at other places, it is replaced by small millets, pulses, groundnut and wheat (rabi). In some areas, pearl millet and rice are also grown as alternative crops. In Madhya Pradesh, mainly the kharif sorghum is replaced by maize, whereas rice and groundnut are also grown to a limited extent.
In Punjab, maize has groundnut, fodder crops and wheat (rabi) as alternative crops. In Gujarat, rice, groundnut, cotton and wheat form the alternative crops in the maize-growing areas. Rice and wheat are the main alternative crops in the maize-growing areas of Himachal Pradesh whereas in Andhra Pradesh, rice, kharif sorghum and oilseeds are grown in these areas.
Kharif sorghum-based cropping system: The area under the kharif sorghum in India is highest in Maharashtra (2.5 million ha), closely followed by Madhya Pradesh (1.01 million ha), whereas in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Kamataka and Guj arat, the area under this crop is between 0.32 and 1.4 million ha. Sorghum is mainly grown Where rainfall distribution ranges from 10 to 12 cm/month at least for 3 to 4 months of the south-western monsoon, it may however also be grown where rainfall is abundant.
On the all-India basis about 17 major cropping patterns were sown. In them the base crop is the kharif sorghum. Most of the alternative crops are also of the type which can be grown under medium rainfall.
In Maharashtra, cotton, pulses, groundnut and small millets are sown as alternative crops. In the adjacent states of Madhya Pradesh, besides the above alternative crops, Wheat and fodders are sown. In Rajasthan, wheat, cotton, pearl millet and maize are grown in the kharif sorghum tract, whereas in Andhra Pradesh, groundnut, cotton, pulses and oilseeds form the main alternative crops. Besides cotton and groundnut, finger millet is sown in the kharif sorghum tract of Karnataka, whereas in Gujarat, pearl millet, cotton and groundnut are the major alternative crops.
Pearl millet-based cropping system: Pearl millet is a more drought-resistant crop than several other cereal crops and is generally preferred in low rainfall areas and on light soils. The area under the pearl millet crop in India is about 9.38 million ha and Rajasthan (4.26 million ha) shares about 45% of the total area.
Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh together have over 4.6 million ha, constituting’an additional 38.5% area under pearl millet in India. Over 66% of this crop is grown in areas receiving 1020 cm/month of rainfall extending over I to 4 months of the south-western monsoon.
Considering the cropping pattern in different states, pearl millet is grown along with pulses, groundnut, oilseeds and khari sorghum in Raj asthan. Gujarat has a similar cropping pattern in its pearl millet areas, except that cotton and tobacco are also grown. In Maharashtra, besides having some areas solely under pearl millet, pulses, Wheat, rabi sorghum, groundnut arid cotton are substituted for it. In Uttar Pradesh, maize, rice and wheat form the main alternative crops to this crop
Groundnut-based cropping system: Groundnut is sown over an area of about 7. 7 million ha, mostly in 5 major groundnut-producing states of Andhra Pradesh (28. 6%), Gujarat (24. 7%), Karnataka (15. 3%), Tamil Nadu (14. 4%) and Maharashtra (6. 6%). Three other states, viz. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, together have about 8.2% of the total area under this crop. The rainfall in the groundnut area ranges from 20 to 30 cm/month in one of the monsoon months and lesser in other months. In some cases, the rainfall is even less than 10 em/month during the growth of the crop.
On the all-India level, about 9 cropping patterns are identified for this crop. In Gujarat, besides the sole crop of groundnut in some areas, pearl millet, is the major alternative crop, whereas kharif sorghum, cotton and pulses are also grown in this tract.
In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, this crop receives irrigation in some areas and rice forms an alternative crop. Under rainfed conditions, pearl millet, kharif sorghum, small millets, cotton and pulses are grown as alternative crops. In Maharashtra, both the kharif and rabi sorghum and small millets are important alternative crops. In Karnataka also, sorghum is the major alternative crop, whereas cotton, tobacoo, sugarcane and wheat are also grown in this tract.
Cotton-based cropping system: Cotton is grown over 9.06 million ha in India. Maharashtra shares 33.9% (3 million ha), followed by Gujarat with 15.6 % (1.41 million ha), Andhra Pradesh With 11.7% (1.06 million ha) and Punjab With 8.3% (0.75 million ha) of the area. Together, these 4 states account for about 69.5% of the area under cotton. Other cotton-growing states with smaller areas are Haryana with 7% (0.65 million ha), Karnataka With 7.4% (0.67 million ha.), Rajasthan with 6.7% (0.6 million ha) and Madhya Pradesh with 5.95% (0.54 million ha) area under this crop.
On the all-India basis, about 16 broad cropping patterns are identified. In Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, the cropping patterns in the cotton-growing areas are mostly similar owing to identical rainfall. These patterns include sorghum (kharif and rabi), groundnut and small millets.
Pulses and wheat are also grown on a limited area. In some pockets, where irrigation is available, rice and sugarcane are also grown. In Gujarat, rice, tobacco and maize are grown, besides the rainfed crops, e.g. sorghum and pearl millet.
Winter cropping system
Among the rabi crops, wheat, together with barley and oats, sorghum and chickpea, are the main base crops. Generally, wheat and chickpea are concentrated in the subtropical region in northen India, whereas rabi sorghum is grown mostly in Deccan.
Wheat and chickpea-based cropping systems: Wheat and chickpea are grown under identical climate and cane often be substituted for each other. The core of the wheat region responsible for 70% of the area nd 76% of production comprises Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, flanked by Raj asthan and Guj arat in the west region, and Bihar and West Bengal in the east region. This area has an extensive irrigation system, ranging from 96.6% area in Punjab to 88 % in Bihar. The rainfall during the south-western monsoon is also fairly high, with over 20 to 30 cm rainfall in at least 2 out of the 4 months of the rainy season.
However, winter showers are scattered and form less than 2.5 cm in each month from November to February. On the all-India basis, about 19 cropping patterns are identified with wheat and 7 with chickpea.
Rabi sorghum-based cropping system: On the all-India basis, about 13 cropping patterns were identified with rabi sorghum. Maharashtra has the largest number of these cropping patterns, wherein starting with the exclusive rabi sorghum, pearl millet pulses, oilseeds and tobacco are grown as alternative crops. In Karnataka, small millets, groundnut, pearl millet, pulses and oilseeds form alternative crops to rabi sorghum.
Cotton and tobacco are also grown in some parts of the rabi sorghum area of Kamataka. In Andhra Pradesh, short-duration pulses, small millets, paddy and oilseeds form the main alternative crops in the sorghum area.
Plantation and other commercial crops: Crops under this category include sugarcane, tobacco, potato, jute, tea, coffee, coconut, rubber and other crops, viz. spices and condiments. Some of them are seasonal, some annual and some perennial. Generally the areas occupied by them are very limited compared with those of food and other crops. Nevertheless they are important commercially. Most of them require specific environmental conditions. As per cropping patterns, they are concentrated in some particular regions. Besides, certain horticultural crops, viz. apple, mango and citrus are important.
In several sugarcane-growing areas, monocropping is practised, and during the interval between the crops short-duration seasonal crops are grown. Wheat and maize are the rotation crops in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana. Rice is also grown in some areas. In the southern states, viz. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, finger millet, rice and pulses are grown along with sugarcane. In Maharashtra pulses, sorghum and cotton are grown.
In the potato-growing region maize pulses and wheat are the alternative crops. In tobacco-growing areas, depending on the season and the type of tobacoo, sorghum oilseeds and maize are grown in rotation In the jute-growing area, rice is the usual altematlve crop. However, onion, coriander, turmeric and ginger are grown as mixed crops Wlth other seasonal crops.
In final types of cropping system, crop mixtures are Widely grown, especially pearl millet during kharif. Pulses and some Oilseeds are grown Wlth maize, sorghum and pearl millet. Lowland rice is invariably grown unmixed, but in upland rice several mixtures are prevalent in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Chhotanagpur Division of Bihar and in Chhattisgarh. During rabi, especially in the unirrigatged area of the north, wheat and barley and wheat and chickpea or wheat + barley+ chickpea are the mixtures of grain crops.
Brassica spp. and safflower are grown mixed with chickpea or even with wheat. Mixed cropping was considered by researchers a primitive practice, but now many researchers regard it as the more efficient way of using land in a reflned system termed as intercropping. Some of the new systems like complimentary intensive intercropping systems, Which seek raising of morphologically and physiologically different crops in association, result in beneficial effects among themselves and in succeedmg associations.
These systems ensure an efficient utilization of sunshine and land on the one hand and helps in maintaining soil fertility and minimizing risks in crop productionn on the other. Breeders are developing plant types in pulses and oilseeds, having good compatibility with row crops.
Future of cropping system
To feed ever-increasing population of the country extensive cropping system have given way to intensive cropping which are exploiting natural resources. Therefore in future thrust will be more focused on effic1ent natural resource management and sustainable production systems.
Our emphasis so far have been addressing the issues related to crop production system only. Since the resource-management Issues interact with other production system as well as, technologies related to integrated production systems involving crop, livestock, horticulture and fisheries need to be addressed.
Further, with the changing economy, the value of commerce in agriculture would be appreciated and farmers decisions on land use would be increasingly based on comparative advantages rather than a subsistence need of the farm house hold. Therefore a major shift in agricultural reduction from foodgrains to vegetables, fruits, flowers, livestock etc is expected.