Research Returns: Sugar Cane Variety Boosts State’s Sugar Industry
2018-19 will be a historic sugar season for Uttar Pradesh. Not only is the state expected to be India’s top producer for the second consecutive year, but it will also, for the first time, overtake Maharashtra in cane sugar recovery. Credit for this goes to the miracle cane variety, Co-0238, developed by Bakshi Ram, director of the Indian Sugar Cane Breeding Institute (SBI) at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Coimbatore.
UP mills have, during the current sugar season (October-September) as of March 12, crushed 725.36 lakh tonnes (lt) of cane, 6.4% less than the 775.14 lt for the corresponding period from 2017-18. However, sugar production only fell by 0.4%, from 82.13 liters to 81.77 liters. The reason for this is sugar recovery. The mills have produced an average of 11.27 tonnes of sugar per 100 tonnes of cane crushed so far this season, compared to a recovery of 10.60% recorded during the same period of 2017-18.
UP’s average sugar recovery rate of 11.27% during this season is higher than Maharashtra’s 11.14%. From Table 1, it can be seen that between 2011-12 and 2017-18, Maharashtra’s average recovery increased from 11.67% to 11.24%, and 11.14% during the season in Classes. UP have witnessed the opposite, with the recovery rising from just 9.07% in 2011-12 to 10.84% in 2017-18 and 11.27% so far this season.
Table 2 shows how the above transformation was mainly due to the variety that Bakshi Ram bred while he was the head of the regional station of SBI in Karnal, Haryana. Until 2012-2013, Co-0238, officially launched in 2009, was grown only in selected farmers’ fields in evaluation trials conducted by the Indian Sugar Mills Association. In 2013-14, the variety was grown on a large scale on 72,628 hectares across UP. In the last sugar season, it covered 12.08 lakh hectares (lh) or almost 53% of the sugar cane area of UP. For the current season, these figures reached 19.28 lh and 69% respectively, indicating a remarkable adoption rate in a short period of time.
The gains for the mills of this high-yield cane, linked to its “early” character, were obvious. An extra 2 kg of sugar for each quintal (100 kg) of crushed cane results in an additional income of Rs 60, taking an average price realization of Rs 30/kg. Out of 1,111.90 liters – the total amount UP mills ground in 2017-18 – this equates to around 22 liters of extra sugar, which is worth over Rs 6,600 crore.
But it’s not just factories that have benefited.
Prior to Co-0238, North Indian cane varieties were all “medium-fine”, with an average diameter of each stem of 2–2.25 cm. Co-0238, on the other hand, is “medium-thick”, whose individual cane sticks have a diameter range of 2.5 to 2.75 cm. Increased thickness confers higher yields. Average cane yields in the UP have increased from around 60 tonnes to almost 80 tonnes per hectare over the past five years, which is clearly the result of older varieties such as CoS-767 and CoJ-64 gave way to Co-0238. For farmers, harvesting 20 tonnes more, at the current state-recommended price of Rs 325/quintal for “early” varieties, means additional income of Rs 65,000 per hectare.
By “precocity”, we do not refer to the duration of cultivation as such, but to the accumulation of sucrose in the cane. Farmers in UP mainly plant sugarcane in February-April, which is ready for milling in 11-12 months. In addition, from this harvested cane plant, there is also a crop of 9-11 “ratoon” that automatically sprouts from its stubble. Coon cane is what the mills crush first from November. Harvesting and crushing of the cane-plant only takes place after mid-January.
The advantage of an early maturing variety is that sucrose accumulation reaches levels of 15-16% in raccoon cane in November and mid-January for vegetable growing. This is not the case with the “general” varieties, where the same sucrose levels are only obtained after mid-December for the raccoon and from March for the cane plant (all the sucrose in the cane n is not recovered as sugar; the unrecovered part goes into molasses used by distilleries). The early maturing cane varieties essentially allow mills to achieve better sugar recovery starting in November and throughout the milling season until the end of April.
Sugar recovery is partly a function of climatic conditions. “For a good accumulation of sucrose, you need cool nights and bright days, with average temperatures at 25°C and minimums not falling below 15°. These conditions are best achieved in southern Maharashtra and northern Karnataka, unlike the subtropics of UP, Punjab, Haryana or Bihar, where nighttime temperatures drop to 3-4°,” says Bakshi. Ram.
The low-key, soft-spoken breeder was however confident that cane yields and sugar recoveries could increase in the North, increasing the thickness of their sticks to Maharashtra’s over 2.5cm levels. This, of course, required challenging the entrenched belief that only medium-fine varieties were suitable for cultivation in subtropical India. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the average recovery for UP this season ending at 11.5-11.75%,” says Bakshi Ram. Although favorable conditions – significant temperature difference between day and night, clear skies – also helped, the main contributor was undoubtedly Co-0238.
In Maharashtra, 67 of the 195 mills that resumed the season this time around have already closed. In UP, the 117 operational mills are still working. “Raccoon cane yields were lower than last year, but the plant crop is good and we could crush about as much as 2017-18. But the sugar production will definitely exceed 120 liters, only thanks to Co-0238. No one ever imagined that UP’s sugar recovery would surpass that of Maharashtra,” remarks a miller from Bijnor.
Apart, the variety of Bakshi Ram has been widely cultivated in other northern states. In the 2018-19 season, areas under Co-0238 are estimated at 136,847 hectares (out of a total cane area of 301,765 hectares) in Bihar, 95,825 hectares (out of 158,484) in Haryana, 87,000 hectares (out of 136,673) in Punjab, and 55,642 hectares (out of 92,938) in Uttarakhand. This is more than 23lh or two-thirds of the approximately 35lh sugarcane area in subtropical India – from just 6,273 hectares in 2012-13 and 115,942 hectares in 2013-14.
This also explains why the sugar industry in the North is on a more solid footing than five years ago.