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Karnataka coffee growers ‘float up' novel way to predict weather

M. R. Subramani
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Coffee planters in Karnataka's Kodagu region have formed an association that will update them on the weather pattern.

Called the Kodagu Technology Users Association, the group will soon be sending “Sonde” or balloon with helium gas and instruments to study the weather. In turn, this will help planters save input costs, especially to use sprinklers for irrigation.

“The balloon with weather equipment on board will give us a correct picture on chances of rain for the next four days or so. The data will be based on various parameters the balloon will detect,” said Mr Bose Mandanna, former Vice-President of the Coffee Board and a planter.

Data collected from the balloon along with data from the 25 automatic weather stations set up in Kodagu will be sent to the Madhapur station. Calculations will be done on various parameters and the interpretation will be sent to the Indian Space Research Organisation's research wings in Ahmedabad and near Tirupathi.

“The effort is to get weather predictions as accurate as possible and ISRO has agreed to help us,” said Mr Mandanna.

While the planters have all chipped in with money to fund this idea , ISRO will be helping them with equipment. “It has taken a long time for us to reach this stage. The first balloon is likely to go up on April 19,” said Mr Mandanna.

Airport permission

The balloon could have been sent up during this weekend but the association has not got permission from the Mangalore airport.

Officials from the ISRO are expected to be present on the occasion.

“It is mandatory for us to get permission from nearby airports to flow the balloon. We have got permission from the district administration and Airports Authority of India. We need to get permission from Mangalore airport which we think we will get next week,” he said.

Once the first balloon is floated, then the association could make it a regular exercise.

“Suppose according to the data rainfall is expected on April 9, then planters will wait till that date. Otherwise, they will have to use sprinklers to irrigate their estates,” said Mr Mandanna.

It takes one lakh litres to irrigate an acre. Since the coffee growing areas face power shortage, growers have to run the sprinklers using diesel.

Rainy relief

Meanwhile, rain during last weekend has brought relief to the growers.

“Nearly 30-40 per cent of the arabica areas have got rainfall. Robusta areas have been getting showers now and then from February, while the estates are also being irrigated. Now, we need backing showers that will help the formation of pinheads of coffee flowers,” said Mr Mandanna.

Blossoming of arabica and robusta plants are expected next weekend.

“We should not get any rain next weekend. If it rains, then pollens will be washed away and no spiking will take place,” said Mr Mandanna.

The blossoming holds key to coffee production next season starting October.

During the current season ending September, coffee production is estimated at a record 3.20 lakh tonnes.

Such a facility already exists in Kerala, while growers in Chikmagalur are trying to follow the Kodagu example.

mrsubramani@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 4, 2012)
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