For farmers in hilly regions, especially those in Kerala and Karnataka, the choice of large-scale crops is limited. They grow either coffee or cardamom as intercrops with pepper. Any farmer’s success largely depends upon the yield she is able to harvest and the income through sales.
In the plains, however, it is the usual vegetables that are grown along with some banana trees.
Compared to farmers across the country, those in Kerala and Karnataka are generally smart about taking timely advise from scientists to improve their yields. They aren’t content with just growing crops.
This attitude is what helped B.H. Sreekantha of Vijayashree Plantations, Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka win the International Pepper Community award for the best farmer among black pepper growers across various countries.
What makes the award all the more valuable is that his plantation is situated in Yemmedoddi village in Tarikere taluk, which is considered as the dry belt of Chikkamagaluru district. The maximum temperature here goes up to 41°C and the annual rainfall is limited to 635 mm.
Leave alone black pepper, cultivation of any crop in this area would be highly difficult. Since black pepper requires adequate rainfall and high humidity, its successful cultivation in a low rainfall area comes as a pleasant surprise, according to Nirmal Babu, the director at the Indian Institute of Spices Research in Kozhikode.
Covering an area of 15 hectares, this estate has 6,444 black pepper vines (seven years old) of Panniyur-1 variety. The estate owes its success to the scientific cultivation practices advocated by the scientists of ICAR-IISR Regional Station, Appangala.
Since water is a limited resource due to low rainfall, a major focus here is on conserving moisture in the soil by digging shallow trenches, mulching with compost and dry leaf and supplementing irrigation through drip system using water from a borewell and a pond.
Integrated nutrient management is a major hallmark of this estate wherein a perfect cocktail of chemical and biologicals is used.
“They apply 300 g/vine of 19:19:19 about three times a year and organic manures like farmyard manure mixed with Trichoderma (15 kg/vine/ year), neem cake (2 kg/vine) and compost (10 kg/vine) are also applied every year. The vines are further supplemented with arecanut husk and cocoa rind compost prepared in the farm. Foliar spray of micronutrients is vital and disease management is crucial,” explains S.J. Anke Gowda, the head of Indian Institute of Spices Research.
The total black pepper yield for the year 2016-17 was an astonishing 59.284 tonnes, with an average yield of 9.2 kg dry per vine and per hectare average yield of 12.207 tonnes.
The farmer owes his success to scientific water management and timely fertilisation and manuring. Frequent inspection by the scientists’ team to the estate have also played a pivotal role in enhancing black pepper growth and yield.