Saturday, August 22, 2009

SUNFLOWER- The harbinger of yellow revolution

Sunflower is one of the fastest growing oilseed crops in India and has contributed to the rapid growth in oilseed production during late eighties and early nineties. Sunflower is the largest selling oil in the branded oil segment and also the farmers’ choice due to its wider adaptability, high yield potential, shorter duration and profitability. The crop in mid nineties was cultivated in nearly 2.5 million hectare contributing to 2 Mn MT of sunflower seed in the country. In India, the commercial cultivation of sunflower began in 1972 especially in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The Government, convinced of the potential of Sunflower in contributing to self-sufficiency in edible oil has adopted a two pronged approach - first by Technology Mission on Oilseeds which promotes scientific cultivation of sunflower to improve productivity levels and secondly by restricting import of edible oils through import tariff interventions to ensure better commodity price for domestic sunflower growers. Recently, the government has increased import duty on edible oils, up to 92% to ensure better commodity price to our farmers.

Sunflower’s sunny side:
Sunflower is a short duration (80-115 days) crop, highly suitable in rainfed conditions under diverse agro-climatic and soil conditions. It is less prone to pests and diseases and the only major investment is the cost of hybrid seeds. It is sown between August and October. Sunflower also scores favourably against the traditional cultivated crops like rabi Jowar, Bajra, Castor and Pulses during the late Kharif/early rabi season as farmers find sunflower as a highly profitable crop, especially in Southern peninsula, consisting of Northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Rayalseema, where the crop is largely cultivated under rainfed conditions during late kharif/rabi season.

The more popular Sunflower hybrid and variety is KBSH-1 and Morden, respectively. Most of these hybrids are supplied by reputed private seed companies such as Advanta India Limited, Syngenta, Cargil, PHI, PSCL and others Govt. agencies like, NSC, State Seed Corporations etc. Some hybrids like PAC-36, PAC-8699 and PAC-1091 provide both high grain and oil yields. These hybrids, which are also notified by the government, have potential to yield upto 10 quintals/acre with oil content of >40%, if properly managed. Longer duration hybrids (>95 days) are to be sown in the early season while medium-short duration hybrids (85-95 days) give better results, if sown later. Few companies like Advanta, offer the full range of sunflower hybrids in all the maturity groups. Application of recommended doses of fertilizers particularly, phosphorous, potash and micronutrients like sulphur and boron are very important. These nutrients, apart from improving plant health and increasing grain yields, also help in improving grain weight and oil content. Proper crop rotation with legumes and other cereal/vegetable crops also helps in conserving soil nutrients and lower incidence of pests and diseases. Soil moisture, if available in adequate measure, during critical stages of vegetative growth, flowering and seed setting enhances grain and oil yield.

Birds can inflict serious damage to the crop to the extent of 10 – 40 percent. The traditional methods like erection of scare crows, noise making devices like crackers and carbide guns, tying polythene bags to ward off the birds are quiet old. In recent times, use of reflective ribbon or bird scaring ribbon has been found effective. Alternaria, necrosis and mildews also take a toll on the crop, particularly during the rainy/ wet seasons. Recommended preventive measures and usage of right hybrids provide protection to many of the common pests and diseases. Preventive sprays of pesticides before the first 50 days prevent attack by Heliothes and infestation of Alternaria. Outbreak of viral diseases can also be prevented by sowing the crop after July and by controlling sucking pests like thrips with timely spray of systemic insecticide in the first 40 days.

Farmers have a large scope of profit because sunflower gives minimum of 20 quintals per hectare and the cost is just Rs.2,000 per quintal which proves very economical to the farmers. The national productivity is 500-600 quintals and under irrigated conditions, more than 1.5 tonnes can be harvested in general. Several harvesting and post- harvest losses also exist, but some measures adopted can evade these losses and save the precious harvest. For instance, it should be harvested when the plant attains physiological maturity i.e. when the back of the head turns from green to lemon yellow colour and the bottom leaves starts drying and withering. Harvesting the seeds, when they attain maximum weight and oil concentration, results in highest seed and oil yield. Delay in harvesting causes reduction in seed yield due to lodging of plants and more damage due to birds, rodents and termite attack. Harvesting should be done by adopting proper method.

Health Benefits

There is a variety of health benefits associated with the consumption of sunflower oil.
Sunflower oil and cardiovascular benefits.
Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E and low in saturated fat. Sunflower oil has high levels of the polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is also known for having a clean taste and low levels of trans fat. Sunflower oil has been shown to have cardiovascular benefits as well. Sunflower oils with low fat content and high levels of oleic acid have been suggested to lower cholesterol which, in turn, results in a smaller risk of heart disease. But on the other hand, high consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in sunflower oil, may increase the risk for development of breast cancer in women. It may also help food stay fresher and healthier for longer periods of time. Sunflower oil, like other oils, can retain moisture in the skin. It may also provide a protective barrier that resists infection in pre-term infants.

There are many challenges for raising oilseed productivity such as lack of technological stagnation, dependence on monsoon, low productivity per hectare, and high production loss due to extreme weather sensitivity of oilseed crops. When compared to other crops of similar category, sunflower is indeed very profitable. The profitability of the crop also depends on the commodity price. Farmers would get maximum benefits from this crop by following simple cultivation practices. Sunflower cultivation has been favoured by most of the farmers since its dividends are attractive. An increasing number of farmers are taking to sunflower cultivation, charmed by its lucrative returns. Government’s neglected policy on the dry and rainfed tracts of India, Oilseeds and Pulses, is costing it dearly with nearly 50% of edible oil imports, even after attaining self sufficiency on the food front. We have to develop congenial national policy/ mission on par with the NHM/ erstwhile, national oilseed & Pulses Mission for the gains and satisfy the requirement of ever growing populace and their enhanced edible oil demands.

- Abid Hussain-

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