Major Crop Patterns in India

Crop pattern has been defined as the proportion of area under different crops at a particular period of time. A change in cropping pattern means a change in the proportion of area under different crops.

These decisions with respect to the choice of crops and cropping systems are further narrowed down under influence of several other forces related to infrastructure facilities, socio-economic factors, and technological developments, all operating interactively at the micro-level.

These are:

  • Infrastructure facilities: Irrigation, transport, storage, trade and marketing, post-harvest handling and processing, etc.
  • Socio-economic factors: Financial resource base, land ownership, size and type of land holding, household needs of food, fodder, fuel, fiber and finance, labor availability, etc.
  • Technological factors: Improved varieties, cultural requirements, mechanization, plant protection, access to information, etc.

Economic motivations are also important in determining the cropping pattern. The prices influence the acreage under the crops in two ways. One is that the variations in the intercrop price disparities led to shifts in acreage between the crops. Another is that the maintenance of a stable level of prices for a crop provides a better incentive to the producer to increase the opt put than what a very high level of price does if there is no uncertainty of this level being maintained over a number of years.

Fixed procurement prices of wheat and rice and other Government controls have induced farmers to shift the cultivation to cash crops like sugarcane.

Farmers also would choose the combination of crops which would give them maximum income. Relative profitability per acre is the main consideration that influences the crop pattern. Small farmers are first interested in producing food grains for their requirements and devote only a small relative acreage to cash crops than large farmers. In fact, in recent years, it is the small farmer who has been increasing their sugarcane areas more than large farmers. Food Crop Acts, Land use Acts, intensive schemes for paddy, cotton, oil seed” etc. all bring sharply into focus the possibility that while each individual measure may push the crop pattern in the direction intended to if the overall effect of all measures taken together on the entire crop pattern is taken, it may not be in accordance with national requirements.

Prevalent Major Crop Patterns in India

The multiplicity of cropping systems has been one of the main features of Indian agriculture. This may be attributed to the following two major factors:

  • Rainfed agriculture still accounts for over 92.8 million hectares or 65 percent of the cropped area. A large diversity of cropping systems exists under rainfed and dryland areas with an overriding practice of intercropping, due to greater risks involved in cultivating a larger area under a particular crop.
  • Due to prevailing socio-economic situations (such as the dependency of a large population on agriculture, small land-holding size, very high population pressure on land resources, etc.), improving household food security has been an issue of supreme importance to many million farmers of India, who constitute 56.15 million marginal (<1.0 hectare), 17.92 million small (1.0-2.0 hectare) and 13.25 million semi-medium (2.0-4.0 hectare) farm holdings, making together 90 percent of 97.15 million operational holdings. An important consequence of this has been that crop production in India remained to be considered, by and large, a subsistence rather than commercial activity. One of the typical characteristics of subsistence farming is that most of the farmers resort to growing a number of crops on their farm holdings, primarily to fulfill their household needs and follow the practice of rotating a particular crop combination over a period of 3-4 years interchangeably on different farm fields.

Under influence of all the above factors, cropping systems remain dynamic in time and space, making it difficult to precisely determine their spread using conventional methods, over a large territory. However, it has been estimated that more than 250 double cropping systems are followed throughout the country. Based on the rationale of the spread of crops in each district in the country, 30 important cropping systems have been identified.

These are; rice-wheat, rice-rice, rice-gram, rice-mustard, rice-groundnut, rice-sorghum, pearl millet-gram, pearl millet-mustard, pearl millet-sorghum, cotton-wheat, cotton-gram, cotton-sorghum, cotton-safflower, cotton-groundnut, maize-wheat maize-gram, sugarcane-wheat,soybean-wheat, sorghum-sorghum, groundnut-wheat, sorghum-groundnut, groundnut-rice, sorghum-wheat, sorghum-gram, pigeon pea-sorghum, groundnut-groundnut, sorghum-rice, groundnut-sorghum, and soybean-gram.

Classification of major Crop Patterns in India

The most convenient method is to classify agricultural production into two groups ie.

  • food grains and
  • non-food grains.

The cropping pattern of food grain crops

A large proportion of the area under food grains is occupied by cereals. The food grains occupied an area of 97.3 m ha. in 1950-51 increased to 124.3 m ha. in 1970-71. From 1970-71 it increased to 126.7 and 127.8 million ha. in 1980-81 and 1990-91 respectively. But the figures in 1992- 93 show a slight decrease to 123 m ha and 1993-94 figures showed a further decrease to 122.4 m ha. In 1993-94, the total area under cereals was 100 m ha. and under pulses was 22.4 m. hectares.

Rice is the major cereal crop among food grains and showed a gradual increase in the area and so also the wheat. But coarse grains like jowar, bajra and maize showed a de- cline in the percentage of the area. If we study the area of cultivation of food grains and non-food grains, there was a gradual shift from non-food grains to food grains. Important reasons are: the prices of food grains have been rising quite fast and the farmers have started growing food crops in a similar way they grow commercial crops like cotton, oil seed crops sugarcane, etc. Secondly, the cultivation of food grains has become highly remunerative and productive under the impact of new technology.

The cropping pattern of non-food grains

Among non-food grain crops, oil seeds form an important group which also includes other crops like cotton, jute, sugarcane, tobacco, tea, coffee, etc.

Cropping Systems of Irrigated Ecosystem

Depending upon the natural water resources, each region has a certain area under irrigated agriculture. But, broadly considering, two distinct irrigated ecosystems emerge.

  • One is the Indo-Gangetic Plain region comprising the states of Punjab, Haryana, the plains of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and the plains of Jammu & Kashmir.
  • The other ecosystem may be carved out of coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

At present, 51 million hectares of net-cropped area are irrigated by different sources, which constitutes about 35 percent of the net cultivated area. Estimates indicate that more than 56 percent of total food grain comes from irrigated ecosystems while progress has been considerably sluggish in rain-fed agriculture which still accounts for 92.8 million hectares or 65 percent of net area sown and contributes only 44 percent to national food grain production. If past trends are any indication, it may be visualized that in the future also the major gain in production, at least 80 percent of the incremental food needs required by 2025, has to come from an irrigated ecosystem where new genotypes and intensive fertilizer use will continue to play the dominant role in enhancing crop productivity

Issues in irrigated cropping systems

The major issues emerging in the irrigated cropping systems may be categorized into two groups- i.e., general and system specific.

General Issues in irrigated cropping systems

  1. Resource Characterization: Adequate information is lacking on the site-specific characterization of land and water resources and climatic parameters, which is crucial for efficient land use planning and resource deployment.
  2. Farmer’s Participation: To develop and improve upon existing agrotechnologies, it needs to be acknowledged that the involvement of farmers in the conceptualization and extension of technologies is of paramount importance. But in the past, a critical lacuna in the agricultural research approach has been inadequate effort or lack of mechanisms to build up research programs that take into account the experience and knowledge base that exists within the farming community. The farm family had never been the focal point of investigations. This top-down approach of agricultural scientists had given a poor perception of the problems that they tried to solve. Nevertheless, it needed to be considered an integral component of cropping/farming systems research, particularly its applied aspects of it.
  3. Low Water Use Efficiency: Despite the fact that water is a precious and scarce resource, its application and use efficiencies have been quite low. Low water use efficiency is apparently attributable to:
    1. Excessive use of water due to improper leveling of fields coupled with improper application methods, even in agriculturally advanced areas, and faulty pricing policy for electricity and canal water lead to over-irrigation.
    2. Non-adoption of appropriate cropping systems. For example – extensive cultivation of rice in sandy soils of Punjab, and advancement of rice transplanting to April/May in Punjab and Haryana.
  4. Land Degradation Problem: Soil salinity hazards due to groundwater rise and impeded natural drainage in certain canal command areas are well known.
  5. Indiscriminate Exploitation of Ground Water: The excessive pumping of groundwater for irrigation purposes in intensively cultivated areas of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh has caused a lowering of the groundwater table in certain pockets. Declining water tables not only raise production costs due to higher energy requirements for pumping water from greater depths but such rapid rates of decline spark serious questions about the long-term sustainability of the rice-wheat system itself in these areas. Contrary to this, the vast potential of groundwater in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and adjoining areas remains untapped.
  6. In-efficient Land Use: Diversion of highly productive irrigated land to nonagricultural uses; such as industry, housing, etc., especially at the rural-urban interface needs to be viewed seriously.
  7. The decline in Factor Productivity: Due to imbalance in fertilizer use, widespread deficiencies of secondary and micro-nutrients, and reduced organic matter contents of cultivated lands, a declining trend for responses to nutrients, especially nitrogen, in major cropping systems is being observed in farmers’ fields. That is, to sustain earlier yield levels farmers need to apply higher fertilizer doses.
  8. Imbalance in Fertilizer Use: The problem of imbalance in fertilizer use has been accentuated on three accounts With intensive cropping, nutrient removal by crops from soil has far exceeded replenishment through fertilizers and manures. This is causing a negative balance of nutrients in the soil. And if this trend continues, a serious threat persists to the sustainability of the major cropping systems of irrigated areas. Due to continuous cereal-cereal cropping in most of the irrigated fertile lands during post green revolution period, multiple nutrient deficiencies have emerged. The long-term experiments have clearly shown a decline in organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous in cereal-cereal intensive cropping. Farmers have developed tendencies to use higher doses of nitrogenous fertilizers, maybe because N (Nitrogen) is comparatively cheaper than P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium). This, therefore, has resulted in widening ratios of N:P and N:K to undesirable levels.
  9. The build-up of Diseases/Pests: With crop intensification under high input use, serious threats of occurrence and build-up of some obnoxious pests and diseases have crept in. This factor again hinders the vertical growth and questions are being raised about the sustainability of the environment under intensive input use, which is otherwise needed for maximizing crop yields. Heavy infestation of Phalaris minor in continuous rice-wheat cropping system in northwestern plains is a glaring example.
  10. Inadequate Considerations for Environmental Quality: With a pressing need for producing more and more from less and fewer land resources, a serious threat is lurking upon the environmental quality. A potential danger may be envisioned in the form of pollution of natural water bodies and underground aquifers due to nitrate leaching and phosphates causing irreparable harm to natural ecosystems under high fertilizer use without improving their use efficiencies.

Specific Issues Relating to Some Important Cropping Systems

Rice-Wheat

The rice-wheat system is the most widely adopted cropping system in the country and has become a mainstay of cereal production. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh are now the heartland of the rice-wheat cropping systems with an estimated area of 10.5 million hectares. Despite the enormous growth of this cropping system in the country during the past few years, reports of stagnation in the productivity of these crops, with a possible decline in production in the future, have raised doubts about its sustainability. Important issues emerging as a threat to the sustainability of the rice-wheat system are:

  • Over mining of nutrients from the soil
  • Disturbed soil aggregates due to puddling in rice
  • Decreasing response to nutrients
  • Declining ground water table
  • Build up of diseases/pests
  • Build up of Phalaris minor
  • Low input use efficiency in northwestern plains
  • Low use of fertilizer in eastern and central India
  • Lack of appropriate varietal combination.

Rice-Rice

Rice-rice is the popular cropping system in irrigated lands in humid and coastal ecosystems of Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala and it is spread over an area of six million hectares. The major issues in sustaining productivity of the rice-rice system are:

  • Deterioration in soil physical conditions.
  • Micronutrient deficiency.
  • Poor efficiency of nitrogen use.
  • Imbalance in the use of nutrients.

Non-availability of appropriate transplanter to mitigate labor shortage during the critical period of transplanting.
Build up of obnoxious weeds such as Echinochloa crusgalli and non-availability of suitable control measures.
In Kerala, the reduction in area is mainly attributable to the conversion of paddy lands to more profitable and less labor-intensive plantation estates. In Assam, low productivity under prevailing soil and climatic situations, poor drainage in submerged areas, low nutrient use, and iron toxicity are some of the issues of concern. The other general issues of low productivity are the build-up of pests, diseases and weeds year after year and the deterioration of soil health to a large extent.

Rice-Mustard

From a viewpoint of food security and the national economy, rice-rapeseed/mustard may be considered an important cropping system. In this cropping system, the yield of Rice is satisfactory in all ecosystems, however, wide variations in the yield of mustard were recorded from one ecosystem to another. Nevertheless, the adoption of appropriate high-yielding rice and mustard varieties, adequately supported by improved production technology, ensures desired productivity of the system

Rice-Groundnut

Groundnut is basically a Kharif crop grown under rain fed environment, however, Rabi/summer groundnut is emerging as an important high-value crop under assured irrigation environments. The productivity of Rabi/Summer groundnut is almost double the yield obtained in the Kharif season. It has become possible to grow groundnut on well-drained low-lying fertile lands after the harvest of the preceding rice crop under assured irrigation.

Rabi/summer groundnut is grown in Periyar, Chengalpattu, Salem, Thanjavur, Coimbatore, Madurai, Arcot and Tiruchirapalli distts. of Tamil Nadu; Nalgonda, Nellore, Chittor, Kurnool, Mehaboobnagar, Anantpur, Warangal, Prakasham of Andhra Pradesh and Krishna districts of Karnataka; Cuttack and Puri districts of Orissa; coastal districts of Konkan, Marathwada region, Satara, Sangli, Pune, Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra and Junagarh district of Gujarat. The area under summer groundnut in general and rice groundnut sequence, in particular, is increasing fast in most of the west and east coastal districts of the country. Besides this, the spread of groundnut in rice fallows would make the rice-groundnut cropping system more sustainable and remunerative.

Rice-Pulses

The rice-Pulses cropping system is a dominant crop rotation in Chhattisgarh, Orissa and parts of Bihar. The higher productivity of rice, the base crop in the system, is possible and also imperative for this region if suitable varieties of paddy and pulses along with proper management are considered.

Factors limiting the productivity of this cropping system in the region are as follows:-

A.Physical factors

  • Droughts and erratic distribution of rainfall.
  • A small area under assured irrigation.
  • High percolation, results in heavy nitrogen losses in red sandy-loam soils, particularly Bhata soils.

B. Input-related factors

  • Delayed and prolonged Biasi/transplanting.
  • Low coverage under high-yielding varieties (HYVs).
  • Little attention to timely weed control.
  • Inadequate supply of quality seed.
  • Little attention to disease/pest control.

C. Social factors

  • Low literacy.
  • A large proportion of marginal and tribal farmers.
  • Practices of animal grazing on agricultural lands.
  • The low risk-bearing capacity of farmers of the region.

Pearl millet-Wheat

The pearl millet-wheat is one of the most important cropping systems of the country and spreads over

(i) arid eco-region comprising, the western plain, Kachch and part of Kathiawar Peninsula having desert and saline soils and representing Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Haryana;

(ii) semi-arid eco-region comprising northern plains of Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh (Agra region), and central highlands including Aravallis, Banswara, Jaipur, and Tonk districts of Rajasthan with alluvium-derived soil and Gujarat plains and the Kathiawar Peninsula – Gujarat state, having medium and deep black soil.

Following issues are some of the concerns about sustainability:

  • Over mining of nutrients
  • Depleting soil fertility
  • Imbalance in fertilizer use
  • Decreasing response to nutrients
  • Lowering groundwater table
  • Build up of diseases/pests and weeds.

Maize-Wheat

Among maize-wheat growing areas, maize is the principal crop of Kharif season in the northern hills of the country but plains of northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar also have sizeable acreage under this crop.

Poor maize-wheat yield has been reported from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tripura, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. There are a number of reasons for poor yield but the most significant are:

  • Sowing time
  • Poor plant population
  • Poor weed management
  • Poor use of organic and inorganic fertilizers
  • Large area under rain fed
  • Sorghum-Wheat

Sorghum-wheat is one of the most prevalent cropping systems in Western regions of the Country, comprising eastern parts of Rajasthan, western and central parts of Madhya Pradesh, Western Marathwada, and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra, Southern Gujarat, Northern parts of Karnataka and Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh.

Sugarcane-Wheat

Sugarcane is grown on about 3.4 million hectares. In north India (Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar), which account for 68 percent of the total area under sugarcane, sugarcane-ratoon-wheat is the most important crop sequence. The system is also gaining importance in Jorhat, Sibsagar and Sonitpur districts of Assam; Ahmedanagar and Kolhapur district of Maharashtra and Belgaum district of Karnataka. The other states where the system covers a considerable area under sugarcane-wheat are Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

Problems in the sugarcane-wheat system are:

  • Late planting of sugarcane as well as wheat.
  • Imbalance and inadequate use of nutrients. Since the majority of farmers apply only N in sugar cane and the use of P and K is limited. The emerging deficiencies of P, K, S, and micro-nutrients are limiting system productivity directly and through interactions with other nutrients.
  • Poor nitrogen use efficiency in sugarcane.
  • Low productivity of ratoon due to poor sprouting of winter harvested sugarcane in north India.
  • Build up of Trianthema partulacastrum and Cyprus rotundus in sugarcane.
  • The stubble of sugarcane pose a tillage problem for succeeding crops and need to be managed properly.

Cotton-Wheat

Cotton is widely grown in alluvial soils of north India (Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh) and black cotton soils of central India (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka). With the availability of short-duration varieties of cotton, the cotton-wheat cropping system has become dominant in North. About 70-80 percent area of cotton is covered under this system. In the Central region also, wherever irrigation is available, cotton-wheat is practiced. The major issues of concern in the cotton-wheat cropping system are:

  • Delayed planting of succeeding wheat after harvest of cotton.
  • Stubbles of cotton create problems with tillage operations and poor tilth for wheat.
  • Susceptibility of high yielding varieties of cotton to bollworm and white fly and consequently high cost on their control leading to unsustainability.
  • Poor nitrogen use efficiency in cotton results in low productivity of the system.
  • Appropriate technology for intercropping in widely spaced cotton is needed to be developed

Legume-based Cropping Systems

Legume crops (pulses and oilseeds) are popular for their suitability in different cropping systems. Recent advances in the development of a large number of varieties of pulse and oilseed crops, varying largely for maturity duration, have made it possible to include them in irrigated crop sequences. The popular cropping systems are pigeon pea-wheat in Madhya Pradesh and groundnut-wheat in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, and groundnut-sorghum in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

The major issues in legume-based cropping systems are:

  • No technological breakthrough has been achieved so far in respect of yield barriers, particularly in
    legumes.
  • Susceptibility of the pulses to aberrant weather conditions especially water logging and adverse
    soils making them highly unstable in performance.
  • High susceptibility to diseases and pests.
  • Low harvest index, flower drop, indeterminate growth habit, and very poor response to fertilizers and water in most of the grain legumes.
  • Nutrient needs of the system have to be worked out considering the N-fixation capacity of legume crops.

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