Green chilli (Mirchi) farming & cultivation in India
India is a country of spices. The most extensive variety of spices is cultivated and consumed in India. India has everything from normal Curry leaves to the most complicated mixture of spices that come from various spices. It is complicated, Yet very simple for Indians. One of India’s most prominent spices is chilli, commonly referred to as hot pepper in western countries. In India, there are over 400 varieties of chillies grown but only a handful of them are commercially cultivated. Chillies are used in almost all dishes in India (unless they are sweets of course).
Chilli cultivation is a bit tricky though. While their high-yielding hybrid varieties in the market em very lucrative with high-income potential, there are pitfalls to cultivating varieties that are not feasible for the market. Understanding what kinds of chillies are preferred in the market is the first step to cultivating chillies. Cultivating the wrong variety could only lead to a loss of time and profits.
Some varieties are preferred in the market and consumed widely in the area. For instance, the chillies in Gujarat are long, light green, and not hot. Trying to sell a variety which is different from the ones is usually a sure-shot way to fail. The market will not accept chillies which are hot or of a different shape. Chillies in the southern part of India are usually very hot and come in various shapes and sizes. For instance, the bullet chilli which is common in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is round, short, and extremely hot when in comparison to most common varieties in the north. The northern part of India prefers bright-coloured chillies, red or green but less spicy.
Facts about chilies
- Andhra Pradesh is the top producer of chillies in India with a share of 37% of all chilli production in India. They produce 700,000 Tonnes of Chillies every year.
- India produced 1786000 Tonnes of Chillies in the year 2021-22
- Andhra and Telangana together produce more than 50% of all chillies in India.
- India is the largest producer of chillies in India and is also the biggest exporter.
- Guntur is known as the city of chilies
- India exports a wide variety of chilli ad Kashmiri chilli, sannam, Teja, Byadagi and Mundu are the most preferred varieties exported
- India is also the producer of one of the top 5 hottest chillies in the world, the Bhut Jolokia.
- The chilli was introduced to India by the Portuguese. Before that, India consumed Black pepper as a replacement
- Chilli is the most exported spice from India. China imports chillies from India and it imported approximately Rs.3144 Crores worth of chillies in the year 2021-22
- India is also the largest consumer of chilies
- While chillies are considered a spice to flavour food, their extracts are used to add colour to beauty products and other food produce
- Chillies are also known to have medicinal properties and their extracts are used for various medicinal purposes
Chilli Farming requirements and practices.
- Climate for Cultivation: Chillies grow in tropical and subtropical climatic conditions. The optimum temperature for chillies should be around 20 to 30 degree Celsius. Temperature above 37-degree celsius is known to slow the growth of chillies and results in poor production. Temperature below 10 degrees is also not feasible for Chilli production. Longer days (9-10 hours) and shorter nights will result in better-growing plants with good foliage and branching. With better foliage and branching there will be more fruits and flowering too, increasing yield drastically.
- Ideal Soil for Cultivation: Though chillies grow in a wide range of soil, Saline soil and high clay soil is often not recommended. Sandy loam soil is considered the best soil for all chilli varieties. A ph range of 6 and 7 is best for chilli cultivation. Consider very light soil to a heavy one for chilli cultivation. Adding organic matter to the soil will increase root penetration, water retention, and better growth of plants. Compost, Cow manure, and any form of compost and organic matter are suitable for loosening the soil.
- Varieties of Chillies. Though there are 8 prominent varieties of chillies, there are hundreds of hybrids from each of these varieties. Chillies include capsicum and jalapenos in the category but the prominent varieties which are cultivated in bulk are those which are used for spices and are suitable for red chilli powder and the green varieties which are used for cooking. The capsicum varieties are not discussed here and information regarding the same will be in another article. Of the prominent varieties, they are determined by the shape and pungency of the chillies. The varieties discussed here are pungent and vary in shape. Common shapes are long and short Bulb-like chillies, often referred to as bullet varieties, and the normal desi variety which includes bird eye chillies.
- Propagation: Propagation of chillies is almost always done from seeds. Commercial cultivation starts from the nursery stage and plants are propagated from seeds in a nursery. It takes 40-45 days in the nursery stage and the plants are allowed to grow approximately 6-8 inches before transplants. Seed propagation is done preferably in shaded areas. Seeds are treated before germination and will be allowed to be completely drenched in water, and treated with Saaf or other fungicides before sowing in grow trays. Cocopeat is a commonly preferred growing media in nurseries.
- Season: Green chillies are cultivated throughout the year. There is no particular season for Growing green chillies. But for the red dry chillies, the best time to start cultivation is during the Kharif, During October. This is particularly important for various reasons. First of all, due to the upcoming summer in February and March, when the fruits start, there is no rain and drying the chillies is a lot easier. Drying chillies in winter and monsoon is usually a task that is not preferred by most farmers. Also, the chances of diseases are high in plants during the monsoons and the chances of fruits getting spoiled due to fungal problems are high during monsoons and winters.
- Land Preparation: The first thing you need to take care of once you determine the soil type and weather conditions for chilli cultivation is land preparation. Land preparation for commercial chilli cultivation is very important and requires care. With most cultivation practices, especially for horticulture, the importance of weeding is often focussed on. A great amount of revenue is spent on weeding and cutting down on weeding is important for better profits. When Preparing land, plough the land twice at least. If you can allow irrigation or slight watering to the soil between each ploughing stage, allowing the already existing seeds to germinate, chances are your field will be free from at least 30-40% of all weeds. Once ploughed, add FYM or Farm yard manure, compost and other organic matter to be added to the field at 20 tonnes per acre. Plough again and then prepare ridges. This process ensures that the soil is fertile for growing almost all plants. For chilli plantations, drip irrigation is recommended. Also, prepare for additional expenses for mulching sheets to avoid weeds in the future.
- Planting, Spacing and Density: The planting of chillies usually occurs after 45 days in the nursery. Plants are propagated in a nursery and allowed to grow to a 6-8 inch height. In winter the time taken to grow the plants may vary from 6-8 weeks. In summer, the plants may be ready in 5-6 weeks. Once the plant reaches the required height, they are transplanted into the field. When transplanting, ensure that the weed control mulching sheets are in place and the drip irrigation is set up. Plants are spayed at 2 feet distance and a row spacing of 3 feet is recommended. Some plant varieties are highly dense and branch out profusely. For such plants, a spacing of 2.5 feet or even more is required between each plant. The row spacing is expected to increase in such varieties. Most indigenous varieties will require a 2 feet distance between plants and 3 feet between rows. Once plants are transplanted, irrigate immediately.
- Intercropping: You can incorporate some varieties of chillies as an intercrop in coconut plantations but it’s rare and not recommended to have a Commercial chilli crop with intercropping practices. For some indigenous varieties of chillies, growing them as an intercrop in coconut plantations is feasible. Be aware that the yield in intercropping is reduced as there is a lack of sunlight. Full sunlight is extremely important for chilli crops and with reduced sunlight the possibility of poor yield is high. Intercropping in general is not advisable or practised in chilli cultivation. the most feasible intercropping is done with onions, garlic and coriander where there is no competition for sunlight in the plants.
- Irrigation: Irrigation is mandatory for the good performance of chilli plants. Irrigate the plants every fortnight for heavy soil and every week in summer. For sandy loam soil, irrigate them as often when the humidity in the soil is below 60 % and not less than 40%. This may vary on seasons and also depends on the soil condition. For humid weather, the irrigation should be optimum and the topsoil is usually left to dry for at least half an inch. This reduces pests and fungal infections in chillies. Providing a short spell of dryness also ensures better root growth in the plants. Water retention in chilli farms will lead to a lot of pests and diseases. Avoid stagnant water areas and waterlogging. Also, ensure to irrigate the plants after every picking.
- Fertilizers: Chillies are rich feeders and require regular fertilizers. even with all the basal application of fertilizers, the plants require additional nutrients throughout their growth. The first few days of the plant’s growth require urea and in later stages add potash and phosphorus to the schedule. The right schedule can be obtained from a range of websites. We recommend that you follow one of the schedules from a reputable source. https://agritech.tnau.ac.in/horticulture/horti_vegetables_chilli_Manuring.html is one of the best sources for chilli fertiliser schedules.
- Pests and disease: Chillies are prone to a wide range of diseases and pests. Fungal attacks are common in chillies. As for pests, thrips are a common pest in chillies. Other common pests are aphids and Spider mites. There are a lot of pests which attack chilli plants, especially the leaves and stems. Determining the condition and treating the diseases when you first see them will reduce the spreading of the diseases. Spraying pesticides in commercial chilli farms are often recommended to avoid loss in yield and plants. For a list of diseases visit the site https://indiaagronet.com/indiaagronet/pest_management/CONTENTS/pest%20of%20chillies.htm#:~:text=The%20pest%20can%20be%20effectively,proportion%20would%20control%20mites%20also.
- Training and Pruning: Training and pruning of plants are not practised in chilli cultivation Commercially. While pruning and training may be feasible for home gardens, large-scale chilli plantations do not practise training and pruning unless extremely necessary. Often pruning is practised when plants are diseased to remove parts that are affected. This is done only in select plants and not on the entire farm. While pruning is not practised in hybrid varieties at all, for indigenous varieties which are perennial, pruning is often a great way to increase revenue and yield. Pruning is done after the season ends and while the leaves are wilting. Prune the plant to a one-foot height. Some farmers prune the plants after the dormancy period, just when the plants are ready to regrow. This is also a great practice and often recommended.
- Harvesting: chilli harvesting is done when the fruits are mature. Picking happens every 2 weeks. For green chillies, the harvesting has to be done regularly at least once in 2 weeks. Plants will bear fruits for at least 2 months and there may be at least 4 pickings and sometimes up to 6 pickings depending on the variety. For indigenous varieties of chillies, the picking will continue till all fruits are over and may take 7-8 pickings. Red chilli pickings follow after the green pickings and you may have 2-3 picks of red chillies.
- Post Harvest: For green chillies, the chillies are directly transported to the mandi at the earliest. Sprinkling water and covering it with a wet gunny sack for an hour or 2 will retain the weight in the harvested crop and while transporting. Pick the green chillies in the evenings or early morning for better weight. Always store the chillies in the shade immediately after picking them. This ensures that the fruits are fresh and suitable for the market. For red chillies, the chillies need to be sun-dried at the earliest. The produce should be sun-dried till it’s brittle and crispy. Once the required dryness is established, pack in gunny sacks or sealed plastic cover, for the market depending on the requirement. Ensure that the chillies are completely dry before sending them to the market. Produce which has a moisture content more than recommended will result in fungal problems.
- Yield: The yield per acre varies from plant to plant and in variety. An average of 1 KG per plant is often claimed in indigenous varieties over a year. Unfortunately, the hybrid varieties are short-lived and have a lifespan of only 6-7 months. The yield of a half kilo per plant is very easily attainable. With an average of 1 KG per plant, you can expect at least 10 tonnes of Green chillies production per acre. Some varieties like the CO1 can yield up to 28 tonnes per acre, while the others could yield up to 3-4 tonnes per acre. Low-yielding varieties are usually not cultivated commercially. Commercial cultivation of indigenous varieties, though perennial and has high demand, is not common either. The yield in Indigenous varieties ranges anywhere between 1 -5 tonnes per year in an acre.
- Area of cultivation: Chillies are cultivated almost throughout India. Commercially, Andhra and Telangana cultivate more than 50% of chillies in India. Other states known for chilli cultivation are Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Market information: chilli, though one of the most used spices in India and worldwide, has a nominal price. Due to their availability and highly cultivated area, chillies are priced nominally. It is also a product which is very unstable in price. While the prices could reach up to 40 KG per kilo, the prices could also drop to less than 10 kg per kilo. Fortunately, Red chillies in the powdered or dried form do not fluctuate as much in price.
- Weed Control: Weeds are the prime reason for deteriorated income and lack of yield in farmers. For chilli plants, it’s important to cut down on weeds at a very early stage. While chemical applications are practised by some farmers, it’s known that they also affect the chilli plants to some degree. Application of herbicides even when controlled is known to be problematic on the farm. One of the best methods for weed control is mulching sheets. Prepare to invest in mulching sheets if you plan to cultivate chillies. Manual weed control could be expensive and requires scarce manpower.
- Seed: For farmers, the most important thing is seeds. From seeds come their entire income. Investing in seeds is very important for farmers. Knowing which seeds to sow and what the potential is important. For hybrid seeds, farmers usually run by trial and error. Some are successful while others fail. Some farmers use a high-yield variety which cannot be used in their area due to the different soil conditions or the market acceptance of the product which results in losses, while some are extremely profitable for one or two seasons before the market for the produce crumbles and price drops. Native varieties are usually cultivated and marketed in the nearest market and usually fetch a good price. Seeds for these varieties are not available in the market and usually are purchased from farmers who already have the seeds.
- Profit Per acre: Green chillies are profitable if the market is right. A profit of 80,000 Rs can be expected if all goes well. This is if there is drip irrigation in place with mulching sheets, reducing the cost of irrigation and weeding on the farm. Proper application of fertilisers and pesticides during the right intervals is key to profiting in chillies. Chillies are not the most highly profitable crop according to horticulturists. There are other crops which may be a lot more profitable than chillies. But if the native varieties of chillies are cultivated, the profit may be a lot more. Additional income from chilli seeds in native variety is also extremely profitable.
- Yield Per acre: Depending on the variety, you could expect anywhere between 8 tonnes to 20 tonnes per acre from chilli crops. Unfortunately, the yield is also directly proportional to the manpower required to harvest them. A good amount of revenue is spent on harvesting chillies and it’s best if labourers are contracted for chilli picking per kilo. Payment per kilo picked can keep a tab on the revenue as opposed to daily labour.
- Cost of farming: When it comes to the cost of farming, there are investments which include drip irrigation, mulching sheets, land preparation and fertilisers, and pesticides. Apart from the basic investment, there is also the matter of manpower required for picking chillies. Harvesting chillies is laborious and can cost farmers a lot of money. Many farmers do not harvest chillies if the market rate is too low. Picking costs would be from the pockets of the farmers especially when the market prices touch the lower bottom. An average picking per day of a person would be around 30 Kilos on the higher side. With market rates as low as 10 rs, the revenue would be 300 rs from a person picking while the cost incurred for labour would be approximately 320 to 350 rs as per daily wages, putting a loss of 20 to 50 rs per person. This amount accumulated fast if there are 20 or 30 people picking chillies per day.
Average Chilli production is 8732 kilos per hectare.