Crop production system
What is crop production system?
Agricultural production system is defined by FAO as"An agricultural system is an assemblage of components which are united by some form of interaction and interdependence and which operate within a prescribed boundary to achieve a specified agricultural objective on behalf of the beneficiaries of the system."
Present crop production systems endeavor to increase the productivity and socio-economic benefits for the producers and render environmental justice to the humanity. Crop production system involves many necessary practices such as soil preparation, planting, nutrient management, weed management, energy management, pest management, irrigation, drainage, harvest and storage.
Each crop can have different set of practices under the crop production systems. Even if we take one crop as a common denominator, different specific management practices may be adopted by two neighboring farmers. There are numerous inherent assumptions, basic limitations, local influences and regional market demands controlling the basic outlook of the farming community. This overview of the farming practices is generalised for the easy understanding.
Soil Preparation and tillage
Tillage is the first step in the process of cultivating crops. The major functions of tillage is to provide good contact between the soil and the seed and to ensure water availability for germination. Further tillage helps in eliminating weeds. However in conventional tillage topsoil gets exposed to erosion by water or wind. Conservation tillage maintains residues from a earlier crop on the topsoil. In conservation tillage, the aim is to retain at least 30% of the previous crop residues. To achieve 30% residue coverage, conservative methods such as no-till, strip-till, ridge-till or mulch-till are adopted. In no-till system there is no tillage and the seeds are directly planted on to crop residue. In strip-till method only narrow strips of land are tilled for sowing the seed, leaving rest of the crop residue undisturbed. Chisel plows are used for strip-till which cause less residue disturbance. For the control of weeds, herbicides are applied.
Grain drills or Seed planters are used to plant seed. Grain drills make narrow trench in the soil and seeds are guided into the seed trench. The furrow is covered after seeding. Planters are used to plant multiple rows of seed. Planters may also be equipped to apply fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides during the seeding operations. Seed selection is a highly controversial job in crop production. Crops used in traditional production are more sensitive to environmental stresses such as drought, flood, frost, or extreme temperatures. There are production losses in the system due to weeds, insects or diseases. GMO plants can better withstand the above problems. However GMOs, especially genetically engineered crop with the Bt gene can lead to widespread resistance to pesticides in the pests. Another possibility is that GMOs may cross with another crop or weed and give rise to hybrids with unknown repercussions. The repeated use of herbicides can give rise herbicide-resistant superweeds.
Plant nutrients are very important components of the production system. The plant nutrients are available as chemical fertilizers and farm manures. The actual required components of fertilizers are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Other trace minerals such as zinc also may be required and soil fertility has to be assessed to quantify the trace mineral requirement for production. The fertilizers are to be applied as per the demand of the plant. The production results are very encouraging when the fertilizers are applied at the time of planting and also in the early stages of growth. The fertilizers are applied from sprayers and spreaders, depending upon the type of crop and the stage of application. The chemical fertilizer application has the risk of surface runoff. The levels of nitrogen or phosphorus in the neighboring water bodies may increase abnormally and lead to eutrophication. There is also the risk of groundwater getting contaminated with chemicals.
Irrigation in crop production system
Irrigation is essential for successful crop production. For the proper growth of the plant and good harvest continuous irrigation may be necessary. Even in region where rainfall is plentiful, the facility of having a irrigation system inplace is a fallback mechanism to counter vagaries of natural climate and drought. Crops are irrigated with groundwater or surface water. Ground water is harvested from openwells or from deep borewells. The surface water is transported by pipelines or irrigation canals. In places where plenty of water is available flooding of the farm plots is resorted to. However, it is a bad production practice which leads to loss of topsoil and leeching of nutrients. There are various irrigation systems. With sprinkler irrigation system water is sprinkled over the crop. In trickle or drip irrigation water is supplied to the root zone with pipelines. The irrigation equipment may be a stationary system or a movable traveling system.
Pest management in the production system
Efficient pest management is an integral part of the successful crop management system. Crops are affected by rodents, insects, weeds, fungi, bacteria and viruses. Rodent control solutions (rodenticides) are to be applied when the crop is nearing harvest. Herbicides are applied to control weeds. Fungicides and other microbe targeting chemicals are used to control fungi, bacteria and viruses. Specific insecticides are sprayed to control insects and larvae. Tractor mounted sprayer and even aerial sprayers are used to broadcast the pesticides. Sufficient precautionary measures have to be taken during pesticide applications. Most of them are extremely harmful to humans and animals. There is always the risk of pesticides contaminating the water bodies and drinking water sources. The recent trend in pesticide application is by adding it to the irrigation system (chemigation).
Drainage in the production system
An efficient drainage system is as important as the irrigation system for profitable crop production. Water logging, rise in the subsoil water table is harmful to the root system of the crops. The topography of the fields and soil type will guide us in deciding about the requirement of the drainage system. Drainage has a positive effect on the production. In a field with a functional subsurface drainage, there is less surface runoff, erosion, and leeching of phosphorus, when compared to a field lacking drainage. The loss of pesticides and resultant pollution of the water sources is also less in fields with drainage. However high levels of soluble nitrogen is lost from the crop production fields with subsurface drainage.
Harvest and postharvest in production
In small farms manual harvesting of the crop is done. When the field holdings are expansive harvesting with suitable machinery is done. Separate harvesting machineries designed for a particular crop are being manufactured. Some of them are, carrot harvester, cotton harvester, tomato harvester, cotton picker, cane harvester, bean harvester and pea harvester. Processing, transportation, storage and disposal are important postharvest production activities.
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