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- SRI Concepts and Methods Applied to Other Crops -



Farmers and NGO staff working with them have begun trying out a variety of adaptations of SRI concepts and methods to other crops in addition to wheat, sugarcane, finger millet, and tef. Organizations in several countries have documented successes using SRI principles with other crops such as maize, pulses, turmeric, cumin, mustard, eggplant and other vegetables. Some of these are related below.



In India, 183 farmers cooperating with the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, planted maize with adapted SRI methods on 10.34 ha in 2009, a drought season. They direct-seeded maize, 1-2 seeds per hill, with hills spaced 30x30 cm. They added home-made biofertilizers along with compost to improve soil organic content. The resulting plants averaged 3 cobs per plant, compared with 2 per plant on the more closely spaced conventional controls. Average height was 173 cm compared to 149 cm, and grains per cob were 248 compared to 225 on the controls. Maize yield was 2.29 t/ha compared to 1.71 t/ha with conventional management, a 34% increase. Farmers liked the alternative methods and thought they could get better performance in a more normal year, according to Debashish Sen, PSI program leader. (See PSI data for maize.)


Asif Sharif, currently CEO of Pedaver, has adapted SRI, conservation agriculture and organic agriculture (a combination he calls "paradoxical agriculture") to create a System of Maize Intensification (SMI) that involves raised beds and mechanization. (Click on comparison of furrows vs raised beds at right).

SMI involves 1) timely planting, 2) minimizing plant trauma through use of precision weeder/soil aerator for mechanical weeding between plant rows on the raised beds 3) optimally wide spacing between plants (69cm between rows and 16.5cm spacing between plants in Spring; 20 cm between plants in the Autumn crop) 4) weeding and active soil aeration (once in Spring and twice in Autumn), 5) precise water management (as is possible with raised beds) and 6) compost application to enhance the structure and functioning of soil systems. (See Sharif's 2012 report for details.)


In Madagascar in 1999, when Bruno Adrianaivo and Norman Uphoff visited the SRI farm of Ralalason at Soatanana, about two hours’ drive from the regional capital of Fianarantsoa, to see the field where Ralalason had had a record-setting SRI harvest that year, he described his own experiments with maize adapting SRI methods. This has not been independently verified, so the following information is offered to encourage others to try their own variations to see if they can get similar results.

Ralalason said that from his SRI experience he had learned the value of applying a lot of compost to his soil, so he had put large amounts of compost on his maize field (about 8 x 10 meters). He was at the time very land-limited; however, his SRI successes have enabled him to triple his landholdings since the visit. Ralalason said that he had planted the hills about 40 cm apart with single seeds, using direct seeding, with no transplanting. When the maize tillers were 60-70 cm tall, he removed, carefully, the lowest leaf and the sheath that was attached to that leaf, wrapped around the tiller, down to the ground. This exposed the meristematic tissue in the culm first to the air and then to a ‘new environment’ (my interpretation) which he created by heaping a handful of compost up around the base of the plant, covering the culm with moist, dark organic matter 3-4 cm high.

This ‘tricked’ the maize plant into resuming tillering, and Ralalason said that he got usually 5 more tillers growing up from each plant this way. He said further that he got 2-3 ears from each tiller, and they were all good ears. He could have gotten six tillers from a hill by planting six seeds. But then there would have been six root systems in close proximity, all competing for nutrients and space. This ‘trick’ was like grafting six tillers onto a single root system, which was growing in very rich, loose soil. Most soils in Madagascar, by contrast, are quite compacted, having little soil organic matter.

Uphoff tried this technique in his garden back in Ithaca, NY, but did not see this effect, perhaps because he planted the maize one month past the recommended date. Glenn Lines, CIIFAD's team leader in Madagascar, tried the technique in his garden in Moramanga and saw the multiple-tillering effect.

This is not a methodology that farmers with large maize fields would consider adopting because of its labor-intensity. But small farmers who have very little land and are getting low yields might try it, starting from a recognition that the key to success is increased soil organic matter, capitalized upon by plant management to induce multiple tillering.

Ralalason, having very little land, invested his labor in collecting biomass from any and all possible sources: straw, weeds, banana leaves (for K), wild ginger (a weed high in P), leguminous shrubs, sawdust, miscellaneous animal manures, etc., to enhance his land’s fertility. His ‘theory’ for compost-making is to maximize the diversity of biomass sources. This seems to be working for him.


Recent Publications:
Karnataka, India
(Red gram)

Several recent articles have reported on South Indian farmers getting higher red gram (pigeon pea) yields by using at least some of the SCI practices with their crop. Transplanting young seedlings with wide spacing (an 80% reduction in seed rate) and getting higher yields (by 50-200%) is achieved with more drought-stress and pest and disease resilience. Farmers are experimenting with direct-seeding (dibbling) rather than wider spacing to reduce labor requirements. More evaluations need to be done to fully assess alternative crop establishment methods with pigeon pea SCI. (See articles by Prabu, Deshmukh, and Shankar for additional details).

After experiencing good results with both SRI and adaptation of SRI principles to finger millet, the AME Foundation (AMEF) began trying out SRI principles on red gram with 35 farmers in five villages of Bangarpet Taluk in 2010-2011. Red gram, the practices promoted by AMEF include using less seed, transplanting seedlings of right age; wider spacing; weed management and other sustainable agriculture practices (in-situ soil and water management practices, seed treatment, use of bio agents, etc.). Transplanting 30-35 day old seedlings helps avoid low yields related to late planting in direct-seeded fields when rains are late. With the new system, the yield increased by more than 70% with farmers harvesting approximately 6 quintals per acre as opposed to the usual average yield in the area of 3.5 quintals/acre. (See the AMEF publication System of Crop Intensification: AMEF Experience in Red Gram for more information). Additional experiments undertaken between 2012 and 2015 (right) that are recorded in a publication by ICAR-KVK Bidar also show that the SCI red gram consistently out-performs the that grown with traditional methods..

Tamil Nadu, India

Trials on castor bean (Ricinus communis) conducted during late Kharif 2012-2013 by M. Daisy et al at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University showed marked variations on productivity due to adoption of system of crop intensification (SCI) practices for Castor hybrid YRCH 1. Plants grown under 120 x 120 cm spacing with 100% NK and mechanical weeding twice at 30 and 60 DAS produced better yield besides being economically competitive and productive than other treatments. Locations where the mechanical weeders are not available, castor can be raised either 120 x 12 0 cm or 120 x 90 cm with 100% NK and hand weeding twice at 30 and 60 DAS for obtaining higher yield, oil yield and net return and per rupee invested.

Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, India

In Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh states of India, People's Science Institute got farmers to experiment in 2009, a drought year, with using SRI methods adapted to several leguminous crops: kidney beans (rajma), black gram, and soybean (N = 697, 314 and 77, respectively). The practices have been described in a note for SRI colleagues.

The 2009 results were, overall, very promising, with a 69% increase for kidney beans (from 1.3 to 2.2 t/ha), a 57% increase for black gram (from 1.4 to 2.2 t/ha), and a 29% increase for soybean (from 2.8 to 3.6 t/ha) (see PSI PowerPoint presentation on SCI performance during drought). Farmers are just beginning to get acquainted and comfortable with these adaptations of growing methods, PSI reports, so they are hopeful of better results in the future.


Recent Publications:
Bihar, India

System of Mustard Intensification (SMI) in Bihar, IndiaThe application of SRI principles to mustard (rapeseed, canola) is spreading in India, particularly in the states of Bihar and West Bengal. Anil Verma, the PRADAN team leader in Gaya district, reports that a Bihar state government delegation of officers and specialists, measured the yield on the mustard field of one Gaya farmer as 4.8 t/ha, which greatly surpasses the usual yield of 1 t/ha. The state government is “quite excited about this,” Verma reports. Recommendations for adapting SRI principles to mustard can be found on pp. 10-18 of the booklet "Growing Crops with SRI Principles" from the SRI Secretariat in Bhubaneshwar.

The Agricultural Production Commissioner of the state has visited fields of rapeseed and wheat cultivated under SCI/SRI practices, and large numbers of officials are also visiting these plots. Dr. O. P. Rupela, retired senior scientist from ICRISAT, is shown at right standing with Gaya district farmer in front of his SCI mustard field. The farmer told Rupela and others visiting his farm on February 28, 2011, that he is now getting a yield over 3 t/ha, compared with his previous yield of 1 t/ha when using SRI concepts for his mustard crop.

Orissa, India

In Orissa state of India, Pravash Chandra Satpathy has developed a system that has many elements of SRI practice, although he developed this himself some 25 years ago and had used the designation “System of Mustard Intensification,” he says, as an afterthought. Rather than broadcast mustard seed (6-10 kg/ha), he grows seedlings (using 200-400 g/ha), which are transplanted in rows 50-60 cm apart, very carefully as with SRI. Although the plant population is cut by 95% or more, the methods used give Pravash a higher yield than his neighbors get, and with much higher economic returns -- a benefit:cost ratio of 3.5:1. (see System of Mustard Intensification article)

Organic fertilization (FYM) plus some biofertilizers are used, with some inorganic amendments too (the soil is low in boron, so borax is added). The management system requires just three irrigations, and soil-aerating weeding is done. The crop matures about 15 days earlier, as often reported for SRI with rice.

EGGPLANT (brinjal or aubergine)

Orissa, India

Also in Orissa, the NGO Udyama which is active in SRI promotion in this state, reports some initial positive results from applying SRI concepts and methods to aubergine (eggplant or brinjal). A report from Udyama director Jayanta Kumar Panda says that some farmers have gotten double the usual aubergine yield on an area basis, and 1.5 x previous top yields. Wider spacing, organic fertilization, and other management changes are giving plants with many more blossoms and more and bigger fruits. This experience encourages farmers working with Udyama to see whether they too can get ‘more from less’ (fewer plants, fewer external inputs). Recommendations for adapting SRI principles to eggplant can be found on pp. 10-18 of the booklet "Growing Crops with SRI Principles" from the SRI Secretariat in Bhubaneshwar.


Punjab, Pakistan (onion, carrots, potato)

After successful adaptation of SRI principles and practices for rice grown on permanent raised beds, Asif Sharif has further adapted these techniques and machinery for a succession of other crops, including wheat, onion, carrots and potato. (See report for details). Most of the land used is saline, with pH ranging between 8 and 9.5, and raised bed technology is very suitable for high saline soils. With the new system, the soil can be "sweetened" around the root zone by precision application of a mixture of chemical fertilizer, compost, gypsum, and sulfur. A single application can drop pH by one point, say from 9 to 8 (9 being 10 times more alkaline than 8). The experiments with other crops were conducted in high saline area where pH is >8.5, and water EC is  >3. (For more info contact Asif Sharif at Pedaver.)

Maine, USA (onions)

In a Sept. 9, 2018, report, Mark Fulford describes his efforts to adapt SCI principles to onions. A small plot of 5 X 82’ X 3 foot wide raised beds was set up, inclusive of 12” wheel rows between beds, giving a total area with extra side margins of 1640 square feet. This test plot was 1/26th of an acre and planted with seven varieties of long-season yellow and red storage onions, which were grown from seed in 2”x10”x20” flat nursery trays and hand-planted as bare root plants (not sets or plugs). Each bed was composed of three rows 12” apart, hand planted with single plants approximately 4.5” apart within the rows. Estimated total area plant count was 3,280. Final net fresh weight, minus any damaged or spoiled onions, was 1,433 lbs post-cull, equivalent to 38,060 lbs / acre. The usual average unit onion weight qs is 0.4368 lbs each with yield averages are 19,800 / acre, giving the SCI onion plot a yield advantage of 18,260 lbs / acre, almost doubling yield. (See Fulford's report for details.)

Maine, USA (carrots)

Mark Fulford adapted SCI techniques for carrots in 2012 and 2014 on his farmer in Monroe, Maine, USA. During 2012, carrot seed was carefully hand-sown from a half-pint bottle with a small 1/8” hole drilled in the cap so that the seeds no closer than 1“ from each other. Small panes of plastic or glass window were placed on top of these rows randomly to predict the emergence. On emergence, the the entire bed was sprayed down with a course, low-pressure spray of apple cider vinegar at 1/2 strength with water dilution and a biodegradable dish soap or yucca extract soap, which killed the weeds, leaving the carrots free to emerge without the need to weed or thin for 40-45 days. From the 150 sq. ft, 4-row carrot bed, Fulford harvested 254 lbs. (1.693 lbs per square foot) which amounts to a yield of 73,762 lbs/acre. (The recorded US average carrot yield per acre in 2010 was 26,800 lbs, with 33,750 lbs per acre considered as excellent).

During 2014, the yield of no. 1 grade SCI carrots from a 410 sq. ft. plot (see photo at right) was extrapolated as 54,296 lbs/acre, with a gross yield of 65,262 lbs/acre. (20,000 lbs/acre is normally considered a good yield.) The value of just the no. 1 grade carrots worked out to a potential profit of $67,870 gross per acre at wholesale prices (before subtracting input costs). The SCI-modified practices can be found in Fulford's 2014 report (which contains the details of both the 2012 and 2014 seasons).

Bihar, India (potatoes)

While we do not have much information on SRI-inspired potato cultivation, a Jan. 27, 2012, article in the Indian Express, noted that potato farmers in the Nelanda district of Bihar were inspired by attention being paid to SRI rice farmers because of their huge rice yields. We look forward to hearing whether SRI adaptations to potatoes will increase their yields as well. the yield was 73,762 lbs per acre. (with US average carrot in 2010 at 26,800 lbs). Estimated value of marketable carrots per acre @ organic wholesale price of $0.80 to 1.00 per lb was $45,910, using the intensified methods described above!


40 day old turmeric tranplantTURMERIC

Tamil Nadu

P. Baskaran, from Thumbal in Tamil Nadu's Salem District, has authored a manual on adapting SRI principles for turmeric. He says that the new methods, called Sustainable Turmeric Initiative (STI), yield 12.5 tons/acre while the usual yield is 10 tons/acre for conventional methods. With STI, sections of seed rhizomes weighing 20 to 35 grams each (180 kg/acre) are planted in a nursery and transplanted at about 40 days (see photo at right). SRI spacing between rows is 40 cm and between plants is 30 cm, while conventional spacing is 30 cm by 30 cm. Fertilization is not much different (drip irrigation and fertigation), but organic fertilization is increased with green manure (dhaincha) and other organic inputs.

According to Baskaran, STI had numerous advantages. Planting material is reduced by more than 80% as spacing between the plants is one-third greater than in conventional turmeric cultivation. Water-use is reduced by two-thirds, which is effective because of the plants' greater root growth and the better structure of the soil given its more organic management. Although the STI crop generally requires more cost and more care than with conventional turmeric production, the higher yields have ultimately resulted in an overall in cost reduction of 20% during 2010 and 2011. (For more details on STI, see the manual.)


Tamil Nadu

A 2013 field experiment by Divya et al was conducted during the early summer season at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, to evaluate the System of Crop Intensification (SCI) practices in sesame. The experiment was laid out in Randomized Complete Block Design, comprised of ten treatments and replicated thrice. The results revealed that closer square planting of sesame at 30 × 30 cm with TIBA application @ 50 ppm at 30 DAS and hand weeding at 35 DAS (2) showed its superiority in recording the higher plant height, number of branches m-2, LAI and drymatter production, number of capsules m-2, seeds capsules-1, testweight and in producing greater seed yield, stalk yield, harvest index and economic profit than the control and any other treatments tested in the study. [see full article: Divya, V. et al. 2015. Growth, yield attributes, yield and economics of sesame (Sesmum indicum L.) as influenced by System of Crop Intensification (SCI) practices. Andhra Pradesh Journal of Agricultural Sciences 1(2): 62-66.)


Sierra Leone

Gerald Aruna, ENGIM Internazionale, has modified the traditional planting method for the local "krain krain" leafy vegetable (Cochorus olitorius) to use System of Crop Intensification (SCI) methods. Called "SKKI" (System of Krain Krain Intensification), the modifications use: Less seeds, more organic matter, wide spacing between plants, transplanting of young seedlings between 8 to 15 days old, and overhead mulching (see photo at right). The crop is harvested twice, the first time by cutting/pruning branches of the plant at a point which leaves at least two other branches for fast re-growth and for collecting seeds at the end, so farmers can replant with their own seed. Weeding / earthing up / soil aeration of the crop is done every 7 days. This promotes robust root and plant growth and results in robust leaves as well as very big pods of seeds at the end to be harvested. Pictures show the matured crop, the regrown ratoon crop, and matured pods with seeds. [See details.]


Gurpreet Singh reported in 2015 on initial efforts to adapt SRI methods to cumin in the village Nandana in Kalyanpur block of Devbhoomi Dwarka District in Gujarat, India, after seeing the success of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India in adapting SRI to cotton. The basic practices involved in System of Cumin Intensification started with preparation of land by chisel plough and leveling. The plot was then enriched with FYM mixed with Amrit Pani, a locally made input constituted of gram flour, neem leaves, calotropis leaves, jaggery and water, kept in air-tight earthen pot for 12 days. The seeds for SRI were soaked in 1% Amrit Pani solution for 3 hours and then dried in the shade. The light-weight seeds were removed when the seeds were soaked in the solution. After the seeds dried, they were sown with point placement in square pattern at a distance of 30X30cm. (In traditional plots, seeds are broadcasted.) 25 days after germination the first weeding was done with a small tool between the rows and columns, and Amrit Pani was sprayed in a 1% solution. The yield with the SCI in a 100 sq.m. plot was 7.9 compared to with 4,8 the traditional method grown in a similar area. [See article entitled Beyond Apprehensions: An experience of System of Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) Intensification for full details.]



In his document on the Application of SCI Ideas to Orchard Management / Intensification, Mark Fulford discusses how managing space x timing x pruning x fertility using System of Crop Intensification principles can improve woody orchard crops in a number of ways. His reports from orchard growers support the idea that soil quality and tree spacing/timing together produce more desirable fruits to sell. Management in terms of timing and spacing of trees is something that tree farmers can modify at all stages of orchard crops. Having fungal and ericaceous symbionts is often the deciding factor for survival and thrive-ability in new tree and berry plantings. Without tilling the surface, a grower can also use the technique of pre-loading first rock minerals, then top with a deep layer of woody / leafy composts on a tree site. This creates a matching woody soil biology mulched deeply over top of the necessary mineral supply for a ‘bio-tenderized,’ well-fed, non-competitive zone. When a layer of organic matter that harbors fungal symbionts has been built up on the soil surface, competing with grass sod, the need for watering will be greatly reduced, and the bearing age and cropping maturity will be moved forward compared to plantings that are plugged into unprepared sod.

Plants, both perennial and annual, benefit from fully-bioavailable food reserves within easy reach of their root systems. These reserves are enhanced by having a loose but protected, untilled, preferably mulched surface, extending well beyond the canopy, with fungal-colonized woody materials in place to promote weather-tolerance as well as water and mineral reserves.  Feeding minerals like igneous-parent rock dusts with some calcium and phosphorus- bearing elements placed underneath woody / leafy mulching materials when the soil is warm and active is a highly effective woody crop program. 

Where orchards have been densely planted, even on semi-dwarf rootstocks, the lack of 'elbow room' to grow in all directions, above and below ground, becomes a severely, but not-often-recognized limiting factor.  For example, the typical spacing for mid- to semi-dwarfing apple rootstocks is 12-20 feet. Maybe up to 25 feet for semi-standards like the very common M7 and M106 apples established in New England.  There are no problems with crowding until limbs begin to touch freely. At this time, the growth of production flattens out and begins to drop. The bold practice of cutting out half of the trees in an orchard in a single season, counter-intuitively, can release the remaining trees so much that overall crop yield is not lost, and indeed the quality and fruiting potential of the remaining trees is realized at a much higher grade. Thus the benefits of wide spacing that SRI shows for rice are seen also with perennial and woody crops. A better distance between semi-dwarfs and semi-standard (apple) sized trees is 30-40 feet. Alternatively, one can plant every other tree with a very short-term dwarf rootstock until cutting-out time becomes apparent. Spacing out the trees to allow full sunlight and easy traffic flow between them, without having to prune off limb ends frequently, is a prerequisite for tree comfort above ground.

These are just a few of Fulford's ideas on woody perennial management. In his article, he also covers pruning, nutrient management, maintaining plant diversity, grafting, and post-harvest issues. [See details.]





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