Lemon grass farming & Profits in india

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a perennial plant with thin and long leaves that has a lemon-like flavor and aroma. It is native to South Asia and widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions of the world for its essential oil, culinary and medicinal uses.

Introduction

Lemon grass oil is distilled from the leaves and flowering tops of the plant. The oil has a strong lemon-like smell, due to the high percentage of citral in the oil. Citral is used in perfumery, cosmetics, beverages and other industries. Lemon grass oil is also known for its antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and insect-repellent properties.

Lemon grass is also used as a culinary herb in Asian cuisines, especially in soups, curries, salads and desserts. It adds a fresh and zesty flavor to the dishes. Lemon grass can also be brewed as a tea or infused in water for a refreshing drink.

Lemon grass has many health benefits as well. It can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and fever, improve digestion, relieve stress, menstrual problems, acne and pimples. It can also boost the immune system and detoxify the body.

Varieties

There are many varieties of lemon grass, but the most common ones are:

  • East Indian lemon grass (Cymbopogon flexuosus): This variety is mainly grown in India and Sri Lanka for its high oil yield and quality. It has purple-red stems and long slender leaves.
  • West Indian lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus): This variety is mainly grown in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia for its culinary and medicinal uses. It has green stems and broad leaves.
  • Java lemon grass (Cymbopogon winterianus): This variety is mainly grown in Indonesia for its high citronellal content in the oil. Citronellal is used as an insect repellent and a fragrance ingredient. It has reddish stems and narrow leaves.

Climate and Soil

Lemon grass grows well in both tropical and subtropical climates at an elevation up to 900 m. It prefers warm and humid conditions with sufficient sunshine and rainfall of 250 to 330 cm per year, evenly distributed over most of the year.

Lemon grass can grow in a wide range of soils, but it prefers well-drained, fertile and sandy loam soils with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. It can tolerate salinity, drought and waterlogging to some extent.

Propagation

Lemon grass can be propagated by seeds or vegetative methods.

Seeds

Seeds are sown in nurseries or seedbeds in February-March or August-September. The seeds are soaked in water for 24 hours before sowing. The seeds are sown thinly at a depth of 0.5 to 1 cm and covered with a thin layer of soil or sand. The seedbeds are watered regularly and kept weed-free. The seeds germinate in 10 to 15 days.

The seedlings are transplanted to the main field when they are 10 to 15 cm tall, usually after 45 to 60 days of sowing. The seedlings are planted at a spacing of 60 x 80 cm or 75 x 100 cm, depending on the variety and soil fertility. About 25,000 to 40,000 seedlings are required for one hectare of land.

Vegetative methods

Vegetative methods involve dividing the clumps or slips of mature plants into smaller units and planting them in the main field. This method is faster and more reliable than seeds.

The clumps or slips are obtained from healthy plants that are at least one year old. The clumps or slips are cut into pieces with 2 to 3 nodes each. The pieces are planted at a spacing of 60 x 80 cm or 75 x 100 cm, depending on the variety and soil fertility. About 15,000 to 20,000 pieces are required for one hectare of land.

The planting time for vegetative methods is February-March or August-September.

Land Preparation

The land is prepared by plowing, harrowing and leveling before planting. Organic manure such as farmyard manure or compost is applied at the rate of 10 to 15 tonnes per hectare and mixed well with the soil. Basal fertilizers such as NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) are also applied at the rate of 50:50:50 kg per hectare and incorporated into the soil.

Manure and Fertilizers

Lemon grass requires regular application of manure and fertilizers for optimum growth and yield. Organic manure such as farmyard manure or compost is applied once a year at the rate of 10 to 15 tonnes per hectare. Chemical fertilizers such as NPK are applied in split doses at the rate of 100:50:50 kg per hectare per year. The first dose of NPK is applied at the time of planting, the second dose after 3 months and the third dose after 6 months. The fertilizers are applied along the rows or in bands near the plants and covered with soil.

Irrigation

Lemon grass requires adequate moisture for its growth and development. Irrigation is done according to the soil type, climate and rainfall pattern. Generally, irrigation is done once a week during the dry season and once in 15 days during the rainy season. Drip irrigation or sprinkler irrigation can be used to save water and increase efficiency.

Weed Control

Weed control is essential for lemon grass cultivation as weeds compete with the crop for nutrients, water and space. Weeds can be controlled by manual weeding, mulching or chemical methods.

Manual weeding involves removing the weeds by hand or using tools such as hoes or sickles. Manual weeding is done at least 3 times during the crop cycle, preferably before each fertilizer application.

Mulching involves covering the soil surface with organic materials such as straw, leaves, grass clippings or plastic sheets. Mulching helps in conserving soil moisture, preventing weed growth, moderating soil temperature and adding organic matter to the soil.

Chemical methods involve using herbicides to kill or suppress the weeds. Herbicides can be applied before planting (pre-emergence) or after planting (post-emergence). The choice of herbicide depends on the type of weed, crop stage and environmental conditions. Some of the commonly used herbicides for lemon grass are atrazine, alachlor, pendimethalin, oxyfluorfen and glyphosate.

Pest and Disease Control

Lemon grass is relatively resistant to pests and diseases due to its aromatic oil content. However, some pests and diseases may occasionally attack the crop and cause damage.

Some of the common pests of lemon grass are:

  • Stem borer: This is a caterpillar that bores into the stems and causes wilting and drying of the plants. The infested stems show holes and frass (excreta) near the base. The pest can be controlled by spraying insecticides such as carbaryl, chlorpyrifos or quinalphos.
  • Leaf roller: This is a caterpillar that rolls the leaves and feeds on them. The infested leaves show curling, rolling and skeletonization. The pest can be controlled by spraying insecticides such as carbaryl, chlorpyrifos or quinalphos.
  • Aphids: These are small sucking insects that feed on the sap of the leaves and stems. They cause yellowing, curling and stunting of the plants. They also secrete honeydew that attracts ants and sooty mold. The pest can be controlled by spraying insecticides such as dimethoate, malathion or neem oil.
  • Termites: These are social insects that feed on the roots and stems of the plants. They cause wilting, drying and collapse of the plants. They also build mud tubes on the stems and soil surface. The pest can be controlled by applying termiticides such as chlorpyrifos, fipronil or imidacloprid.

Some of the common diseases of lemon grass are:

  • Leaf blight: This is a fungal disease that causes brown spots with yellow margins on the leaves. The spots coalesce and form large patches that dry up and fall off. The disease can be controlled by spraying fungicides such as mancozeb, copper oxychloride or propiconazole.
  • Rust: This is a fungal disease that causes orange-red pustules on the leaves and stems. The pustules rupture and release spores that spread the disease. The disease can be controlled by spraying fungicides such as mancozeb, copper oxychloride or propiconazole.
  • Wilt: This is a bacterial disease that causes yellowing, wilting and drooping of the leaves and stems. The infected plants show brown discoloration of the vascular tissues when cut. The disease can be controlled by applying bactericides such as streptomycin, tetracycline or copper hydroxide.

Harvesting and Yield

Lemon grass can be harvested for its leaves or oil.

Leaves

The leaves can be harvested for fresh or dried use in culinary or medicinal purposes. The first harvest can be done after 4 to 6 months of planting, when the plants are about 60 to 90 cm tall. 

Oil

The oil can be extracted from the fresh or partially dried leaves by steam distillation or solvent extraction methods.

Steam distillation

Steam distillation is the common method for large scale lemongrass oil production. It involves passing steam through the chopped leaves in a distillation unit. The steam carries the volatile oil components and condenses in a cooling system. The oil and water are separated by a separator or a decanter. The oil yield varies from 0.2 to 0.5% depending on the variety, age and moisture content of the leaves.

Solvent extraction

Solvent extraction is an alternative method for small scale lemongrass oil production. It involves soaking the chopped leaves in a solvent such as petroleum ether, hexane or ethanol for 24 to 36 hours. The solvent dissolves the oil components and forms a solution. The solution is filtered and evaporated to obtain the crude oil. The oil yield varies from 0.5 to 1% depending on the solvent and the extraction time.

Purification and Storage

The crude oil obtained from either method may contain impurities such as water, wax, resin, fatty acids and other compounds. The oil can be purified by fractional distillation, filtration or crystallization methods. The purified oil has a clear yellow color and a strong lemon-like odor.

The oil should be stored in dark glass bottles or stainless steel containers in a cool and dry place away from heat, light and air. The oil can deteriorate due to oxidation, polymerization or hydrolysis over time. The shelf life of the oil is about 2 to 3 years under proper storage conditions.

Yield and Income

The yield and income of lemongrass farming depend on various factors such as variety, climate, soil, irrigation, weed control, pest and disease management, harvesting method, oil extraction method and market price.

According to some estimates, the average yield of lemongrass leaves is about 20 to 25 tonnes per hectare per year. The average yield of lemongrass oil is about 50 to 100 kg per hectare per year.

The market price of lemongrass leaves varies from Rs. 5 to Rs. 10 per kg depending on the quality and demand. The market price of lemongrass oil varies from Rs. 800 to Rs. 1200 per kg depending on the purity and grade.

The gross income of lemongrass farming can be calculated as follows:

Gross income = (Yield of leaves x Price of leaves) + (Yield of oil x Price of oil)

For example, if the yield of leaves is 20 tonnes per hectare per year and the price of leaves is Rs. 8 per kg, and the yield of oil is 75 kg per hectare per year and the price of oil is Rs. 1000 per kg, then the gross income is:

Gross income = (20 x 1000 x 8) + (75 x 1000) = Rs. 2,35,000 per hectare per year

The net income of lemongrass farming can be calculated by deducting the total cost of cultivation from the gross income.

The total cost of cultivation includes fixed costs such as land preparation, planting material, irrigation system, distillation unit etc., and variable costs such as manure, fertilizers, pesticides, labor, harvesting, transportation etc.

The total cost of cultivation may vary from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1,00,000 per hectare per year depending on the scale and intensity of farming.

The net income can be calculated as follows:

Net income = Gross income – Total cost of cultivation

For example, if the total cost of cultivation is Rs. 75,000 per hectare per year, then the net income is:

Net income = Rs. 2,35,000 – Rs. 75,000 = Rs. 1,60,000 per hectare per year

Conclusion

Lemon grass is a versatile and valuable plant that can be grown for its leaves or oil. It has many uses in culinary, medicinal and industrial sectors. It can be cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions with suitable climate and soil conditions. It can be propagated by seeds or vegetative methods and harvested for 3 to 4 years. It can be extracted by steam distillation or solvent extraction methods and purified by various techniques. It can be stored in dark glass bottles or stainless steel containers for 2 to 3 years. It can generate a good income for the farmers if managed properly and marketed well. Lemon grass farming is a profitable and sustainable agribusiness that can benefit the farmers and the consumers alike.

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