Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Casuarina field on Fire

Dear Friends,

We all know that Casuarina sheds lot of leaves and branches. Their gradual incorporation into the soil leads to increased organic matter (O.M) and organic carbon (O.C) content of the soil. In addition to tree's natural leaf shedding, farmers used to prune the trees to allow more sun light into the field and to induce fast vertical growth of the tree.

Usually after about a year, the accumulation of these organic matter suppress the weed growth totally, saving the farmer from deweeding expenses. In my field, I liked to walk on these cushion of soft dried matter, enjoying every moment, each and every twig breaking under my feet, raised my spirits considerably.

Unfortunately, during a gale, overhead low tension power lines that crosses in a far corner of my field brushed against each other spewing a shower of fire on the dried matter below. Since this happened at night, fire spread unchecked to about 3 acres. When came to know of this next day, we copiously irrigated the field to save the crop from dehydration. Even on closer scrutiny the tree exhibits no trace of damage due to the fire. It remained as fresh and as green as it looks normally for about 10 days.

Then the drying of leaves, stems and branches started on the entire field. A second and third irrigation did not stop the crop from drying. I summoned farmers to my field, who had experienced these kind fire hazards in their crop also. They advised me to harvest the crop immediately to save it from further moisture loss. They opined that Casuarina being a very sensitive crop, it can not withstand even heat radiation, let alone fire, from nearby burning field. Some of them even attempted steps like drenching the whole plant with water in addition to normal flood irrigation. All ended in vain.

Agricultural Field Officer from TNPL, Plantations division, visited the field and declined to procure the wood since the age of the crop was 1 year and 9 months, a young crop with low cellulose content which is not suitable for paper making.

Finally the ill fated crop was harvested manually and dispatched to M/s.Dharani Sugars & Chemicals Ltd., for chipping. (See: Wood Chipper). The chipped wood is used there as substitute for the conventional bagasse for heating the boiler. The company imports raw sugar from South America hence the shortage for bagasse. They offered
Rs.2300/Ton and the payment was immediate.

Cutting, Loading and transportation costs came to about

Average yield obtained for this Casuarina at the age of 1 Year 9 months,
which bore the brunt of fire, with bone dry wood was
17 Tons/acre.

This is for the record.

  • The fallen Casuarina leaves and branches should be ploughed back into the soil using mechanical power weeders yearly twice as recommended by TNPL.
  • Never, never plant Casuarina under power lines.
  • Insure the crop without fail.
  • Harvest and sell the crop immediately after the fire and wait for none. Each and every day is crucial since the invisible loss on account of moisture will be huge.
Readers are requested to chip in their valuable comments on this subject.


Vishnu Sankar

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