India has been home to agricultural and allied practices for around 10,000 years. Today, as the nation remains the fastest growing economy of the world, agriculture plays a major role in developing our economy. Even when its share of contribution to the GDP has been gradually lowering, agriculture remains the biggest player in the country accounting for 14% of the GDP of the nation and employing nearly 54% of the Indian population.
India remains the second biggest harvester of fruits, vegetables and food grains as well as is a massive player in the dairy, livestock and animal products industry. Hence, planning and undertaking proper agricultural practices is of foremost benefit to both the producers as well as the consumers. Cropping and farming patterns are hence points of stress in agriculture and livestock.
For a sub-tropical country which comprises a variety of geographical biomes including dense forests, hot and cold deserts, coastal plains, grasslands, tundra, etc. cropping patterns remain dynamic across space and time. Different regions of the country grow different variety of crops at different seasons of a year. Such diverse nature of cropping pattern in India makes this agricultural practice highly interesting topic to study.
Parameters of Cropping Patterns in India
As previously mentioned, the environmental diversity of the geography and biology of India has led the various communities of the nation to adopt different methods of farming, there are more factors on which a cropping pattern depends upon for successful harvest.
Broadly, the decisive parameters can be divided into two categories- natural factors and anthropogenic factors. Natural factors involve the climate, season and topography. Anthropogenic factors include technological factors, government factors and socio-economic factors.
Climate involves the weather and rainfall patterns of a geographical area. Plant growth heavily depends upon water, nutrients and amount of sunlight it receives every day. Most of the Indian subcontinent consists of tropical and sub-tropical regions which provide ambient temperatures and rainfalls for crops to grow. Other than the tropics, some states like J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Upper Punjab, etc. have a temperate climate.
Seasons are the deciding factors of farming pattern in India. Crops are classified according to the season in which they are grown. Kharif crops like paddy, jowar, bajra, groundnut, etc. are grown during southwest monsoon in the months of June to November. Rabi crops like wheat, barley and peas are grown during the winter season between November to April. Lastly, Zaid crops like pumpkin and cucumber are grown in the short summer interval of April to June.
Topography is the last of the natural parameters that govern cropping patterns. This includes the type of soil (alluvial, black, red, laterite, peaty, etc.), nutrient content of soil, landforms (plains, plateaus, hills, slope) and sources of water (river, lake, pond and groundwater). Based on these factors, the cropping and farming regions are determined.
For example, Paddy cultivation is most suitable in the states of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu due to the states fulfilling the crop’s natural requirements which include ambient temperatures between 22-32°C, rainfalls up to 150-300 cm and presence of deep clayey and loamy soil. Similarly, tea and coffee plantations are found in northeastern states, Karnataka and Kerala as these states hold optimum temperatures of 15-25°C, rainfall of 150-300 cm and are home to deep friable and well drained loamy soil.
Under the Anthropogenic factors, the government factors play an important role in farming pattern. Subsidies on crop type, pesticides and fertilisers, agricultural insurances, irrigation schemes and procurement of modern technology can affect a farmer’s choice of harvest as well as the agricultural procedures. Technology has had a major impact in the agriculture industry. Starting with the Green Revolution, agricultural practices have been constantly employing new age equipment and high quality seeds and fertilisers.
But many landowners and farmers still utilise the conventional farming practices. This is where the Socio-economic factors come into motion. In India, farming is more of a subsistence practice than a commercial practice. Not all farmers have adopted modern technology because either they cannot afford it, or they have unshakable beliefs in their customs and traditions. Furthermore, land ownership, agricultural land sizes, household needs like food, fuel, fodder, etc. also play a vital role under socio-economic factors of cropping pattern.
Types of Cropping Patterns in India
On the basis of areal strength of the individual crops, cropping patterns are decided. The mathematical formula to determine the Relative Yield Index is given as-
I = [ x̅crop ÷ x̅area ] × 100
Where ‘I’ stands for Relative Yield Index, x̅crop stands for mean yield of the crop in a component areal unit and x̅area denotes Mean yield of the total area. This gives us an idea of which crops are dominant crops, which occupy the maximum cultivable areal unit and helps the farmers classify the crops into four distinct categories- High yield and spread; High yield-low spread; Low yield-high spread and Low yield and spread.
Having this information, the farmers and landowners can decide how much area to allot to which crop to gain maximum profit. Once this is confirmed, the following cropping patterns are undertaken in various combinations in order to obtain the most time effective and high yielding harvest.
This is a farming practice that involves growing a single crop in a year and repeating the same crop in the following years on the same land without interchanging or rotating with other crops. Only one season is utilised every year for harvest and the land remains uncultivated in the other seasons. Wheat is one such crop which is grown under this pattern.
Mono-cropping is advantageous only in terms of providing the optimum water, nutrients and temperature for the crops to grow. But it has more disadvantages as uncultivated period is longer and land resources are wasted. Furthermore maintaining the barren land becomes difficult and it encourages pests, weeds and disease which reduces soil fertility and texture and can be harmful for the next batch of crops.
This cropping pattern involves growing different crops every year. It is similar to mono-cropping except every year, the crop is changed. For example, we can sow maize in the first year followed by beans in the second year and again sowing maize in the third year. Ideal rotation involves a combination of three unique types of crops namely- cultivated crops, grain crops and grass crops.
Unlike mono-cropping, crop rotation focuses on agriculture conservation as it helps improve soil structure and fertility, prevents soil erosion and control weeds and pests. It also helps maintain the biodiversity of the land. But to achieve this, crop rotation involves extensive planning before implementation. It is a cropping pattern which cannot be planned years in advance as factors like weather, rainfall and temperatures are crucial for the determination of crop combination and sowing season.
Under this farming pattern, two crops are grown in a single crop year in succession. Rice-pigeonpea and pigeonpea-wheat is an ideal example of sequential cropping. Rice being a Kharif crop can be grown in monsoon followed by a short interval of pegionpea which has only 150 days of growth period.
Crop combinations are to be selected in such a way that one remains a major crop and the other acts as a cover crop or a minor crop so that the soil can contain enough moisture and nutrition for both. This is economically very effective as in this pattern; two crops can be grown in one year. But at the same time, the soil should be given adequate time to revitalise itself to maintain its quality and texture.
This cropping pattern involves simultaneously growing two or more crops in the same field at the same time. There are two types of intercropping patterns-
Mixed Intercropping- The seeds of both the plants are sowed in a disorganised pattern. This is easier to carry out while planting but difficult to maintain in terms of weeding, fertilisation and harvesting. Additionally, if competitive species are grown together, the crops may end up growing too close to each other and compete for space and nutrients.
Row Intercropping- This is a much more organised pattern of intercropping with growing the two or more crops in distinct rows at adequate distances which makes maintenance and harvesting easier.
Intercropping too requires careful planning, the crops that are chosen should be less of competitive and more of mutualistic. This pattern increases the yield harvested from a single field for a given season. Coconut and Mexican marigold cultivation is one such example of intercropping in India. While it does help in pest management in smaller and medium sized fields, intercropping is not as efficient in large and commercial fields.
This pattern is utilised when the slope is too steep and there is no alternative to control soil erosion. Additionally, this enables the farmer to grow a variety of crops in a single field in the same season. The field is broadly divided into several strips of width varying from 3 to 9 metres.
On steep slopes, these strips are arranged along the contours (thus preventing erosion). Ones the crops are harvested, the farmer can rotate the crops in each strip. In this way, the soil in each cultivable strip can improve its fertility and texture. The size of the strips makes it easy to manage weed and pest. Furthermore, this pattern also reduced competition between the two crops.
A prime example is the crop combination of maize-soya bean-finger millet
In this cropping pattern, the main crop is planted first and after a suitable duration, the intercrop or cover crop is planted before harvesting the main crop. This prevents competition between the main crop and the intercrop and increases the land utility period as the second crop continues to grow even after the main crop is harvested.
Since this improves ground cover, it has better control over soil erosion and efficiently manages pests and weeds. But at the same time, this technique cannot be employed in modern farmlands as it prevents mechanisation of processes and requires higher maintenance costs. In India, the combination of rice-cauliflower-onion-summer gourd is a common example of relay cropping.
India employs more than half a billion people in its agriculture sector but a good majority of them are involved in small-scale farming that leads to low productivity. The average landholding size in India is as low as 2 hectares per ownership. Adding the low productivity factor with the over-abundant workforce, the bigger population which directly involves itself with this industry suffers from poverty, even today.
Furthermore, the current climate change issues that have disrupted the global surface temperatures and rainfall patterns have also contributed to loss of productivity in the agricultural sector.
To come out of this, India will need to reduce the number of people in this field and direct them to other sectors. This lowering of workforce should come with secure employments in other fields like skilled labour, technician, etc. which can only be possible if we empower the semi-rural and rural population by providing them with educational and lifestyle privileges.
Secondly, steps to control the pressure of natural disaster like draughts and floods should be improvised using modern technology. Finally, with the number of cropping patterns available, economic and agricultural planners should work out a viable and effective cropping model for both agricultural and livestock farming. This way, we can see growth in our agriculture which is a prerequisite for the development of our nation.