Spineless fodder cactus under different land use and production systems in rainfed semi-arid tropics of India
Spineless forage cactus can be a cost-effective solution for the livestock keepers of semi-arid tropics by providing a stable source of nutritive forage capable of maintaining healthy and productive herds/flocks especially during lean periods. Therefore, the feasibility of growing cactus as an alternate source of feed and fodder in different land use systems was explored for these areas. Spineless fodder cactus was planted under various land uses and production systems like boundary plantation in rainfed farming systems, silvopasture, hortipasture, intercropping with forages like tri-specific hybrid (TSH) and cowpea, waste lands and also on farmers’ fields. The growth and yield of spineless forage cactus was recorded at the one and half year-old stage. On average, cactus achieved 74.8 cm height with 13.4 cladodes plant‑1 and 7.95 kg plant‑1 fresh biomass in TSH based intercropping system. The fresh fodder yield from cactus, TSH and inter-cropping system as a whole was 79.5 t ha‑1, 106.34 t ha‑1 year‑1 and 185.84 t ha‑1, respectively. The survival, cladodes plant‑1 and green fodder yield of cactus in Leucaena based silvipastoral system ranged between 62 and 81%, 2-7 and 1.5-5.25 kg plant‑1 while the corresponding values for Emblica based hortipastoral system were 67-86%, 3-10 and 2.4-8 kg plant‑1. The boundary plantation of cactus in rainfed farming system recorded 84-96% survival, 4-14 cladodes plant‑1 and 4.8-16.8 kg plant‑1 green fodder yield. Similarly, the cactus planted on waste land recorded 73-92% survival, 3-12 cladodes plant‑1 and 2.7-10.8 kg plant‑1 fresh biomass. The cactus planted in boundary plantation system recorded higher growth and fresh biomass followed by grass inter-cropping and least under shade in silvipastoral and hortipastoral systems.