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‘Red Rot’ Infestation In Sugarcane Leads India Into Trouble

fungus infestation occurred mainly in the water-logged areas in central Uttar Pradesh, where the Co-0238 variety was not recommended.

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Agriculture
Cane growers in Uttar Pradesh are slowly shifting to other varieties such as Co-0118 as the recovery rate of Co-0238 has gone down due to the infestation, Pixabay

The famed Co-0238 high-yielding sugarcane variety that has placed India on the verge of becoming the world’s largest sugar producer has run into trouble due to a ‘Red Rot’ infestation, forcing the government to hunt for a new strain to check a possible slump in output in the coming years.

Coimbatore-based Sugar Breeding Institute (ICAR-SBI), a constituent of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has started working on a project to develop a variety that will address the problem of the fungal disease besides increasing cane yield and recovery rate (percentage of sugar to sugarcane).

The new variety is being developed at the institute’s Karnal-based centre, which may take up to three years to become ready for commercial use, ICAR-SBI Director Bakshi Ram told IANS.

“Broadly, there are three characters we are working on. These are increasing cane yield, resolving the Red Rot problem and improving sugar recovery. But focus in the new variety is on the Red Rot issue. It is welcoming if other two characters also gets better,” he said.

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Sugar production in India in 2018-19 is expected to improve on the previous year’s record, which can make the country largest global producer, Pixabay

This fungal infection is said to be the most threatening sugarcane disease, commonly termed its cancer.

The area under Co-0238 has increased at a faster rate in subtropical regions after it was released in 2009-10, and now covers 1.19 million hectares.

In 2017-18, this variety made for a sugar recovery rate of over 13 per cent or production of 12.05 million tonnes in Uttar Pradesh alone as against the total production of around 32.25 million tonnes in the country.

Sugar production in India in 2018-19 is expected to improve on the previous year’s record, which can make the country largest global producer, provided Brazil continues with its decision to earmark more cane for producing ethanol.

Infestation of ‘Red Rot’ was first seen in 2016 in some pockets but its rapid proliferation has caused great worry to farmers, an official of the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF) said.

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Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has started working on a project to develop a variety that will address the problem of the fungal disease besides increasing cane yield and recovery rate,pixabay

“Cane growers in Uttar Pradesh are slowly shifting to other varieties such as Co-0118 as the recovery rate of Co-0238 has gone down due to the infestation. We think this variety may be phased out in the next four-five years,” said NFCSF Managing Director Prakash Naiknavare.

Bakshi Ram said the fungus infestation occurred mainly in the water-logged areas in central Uttar Pradesh, where the Co-0238 variety was not recommended.

Also Read: UN food agency Pushes ‘Smart Crops’ as Rice Alternative to defeat Hunger in Asia

“The infestation occurred due to plantation of the Co-0238 variety with other susceptible cane varieties in the water-logged areas,” he pointed out.

Replantation of with new Co-0238 seeds can provide relief to farmers and this advisory has been sent to all sugar mills in the state, he added. (IANS)

Next Story

The Future Farmer is Here and He is A Robot

The heavy lifting on Iron Ox’s indoor farm is done by Angus, which rolls about the indoor farm on omnidirectional wheels. Its main job is to shuttle maturing produce to another,

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Iron Ox CEO Brandon Alexander gives a tour at his robotic indoor farm in San Carlos, California. VOA

Brandon Alexander would like to introduce you to Angus, the farmer of the future. He’s heavyset, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds, not to mention a bit slow. But he’s strong enough to hoist 800-pound pallets of maturing vegetables and can move them from place to place on his own.

Sure, Angus is a robot. But don’t hold that against him, even if he looks more like a large tanning bed than C-3PO.

To Alexander, Angus and other robots are key to a new wave of local agriculture that aims to raise lettuce, basil and other produce in metropolitan areas while conserving water and sidestepping the high costs of human labor. It’s a big challenge, and some earlier efforts have flopped. Even Google’s “moonshot” laboratory, known as X, couldn’t figure out how to make the economics work.

After raising $6 million and tinkering with autonomous robots for two years, Alexander’s startup Iron Ox says it’s ready to start delivering crops of its robotically grown vegetables to people’s salad bowls. “And they are going to be the best salads you ever tasted,” says the 33-year-old Alexander, a one-time Oklahoma farmboy turned Google engineer turned startup CEO.

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The temperatures of some two dozen plant varietals are monitored at Iron Ox, a robotic indoor farm, in San Carlos, California. VOA

Iron Ox planted its first robot farm in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in San Carlos, California, a suburb located 25 miles south of San Francisco. Although no deals have been struck yet, Alexander says Iron Ox has been talking to San Francisco Bay area restaurants interested in buying its leafy vegetables and expects to begin selling to supermarkets next year.

The San Carlos warehouse is only a proving ground for Iron Ox’s long-term goals. It plans to set up robot farms in greenhouses that will rely mostly on natural sunlight instead of high-powered indoor lighting that sucks up expensive electricity. Initially, though, the company will sell its produce at a loss in order to remain competitive.

During the next few years, Iron Ox wants to open robot farms near metropolitan areas across the U.S. to serve up fresher produce to restaurants and supermarkets. Most of the vegetables and fruit consumed in the U.S. is grown in California, Arizona, Mexico and other nations. That means many people in U.S. cities are eating lettuce that’s nearly a week old by the time it’s delivered.

There are bigger stakes as well. The world’s population is expected to swell to 10 billion by 2050 from about 7.5 billion now, making it important to find ways to feed more people without further environmental impact, according to a report from the World Resources Institute.

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A robotic arm lifts plants being grown at Iron Ox, a robotic indoor farm, in San Carlos, California. VOA

Iron Ox, Alexander reasons, can be part of the solution if its system can make the leap from its small, laboratory-like setting to much larger greenhouses.

The startup relies on a hydroponic system that conserves water and automation in place of humans who seem increasingly less interested in U.S. farming jobs that pay an average of $13.32 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nearly half of U.S. farmworkers planting and picking crops aren’t in the U.S. legally, based on a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The heavy lifting on Iron Ox’s indoor farm is done by Angus, which rolls about the indoor farm on omnidirectional wheels. Its main job is to shuttle maturing produce to another, as-yet unnamed robot, which transfers plants from smaller growing pods to larger ones, using a mechanical arm whose joints are lubricated with “food-safe” grease.

It’s a tedious process to gently pick up each of the roughly 250 plants on each pallet and transfer them to their bigger pods, but the robot doesn’t seem to mind the work. Iron Ox still relies on people to clip its vegetables when they are ready for harvest, but Alexander says it is working on another robot that will eventually handle that job too.

Also Read: Asian Farms Tackle Drug Resistance with Apps and Dictionary

Alexander formerly worked on robotics at Google X, but worked on drones, not indoor farms. While there, he met Jon Binney, Iron Ox’s co-founder and chief technology offer. The two men became friends and began to brainstorm about ways they might be able to use their engineering skills for the greater good.

“If we can feed people using robots, what could be more impactful than that?” Alexander says. (VOA)