Sugarcane is becoming cattle fodder in Maharashtra.

This situation has come about due to poor fodder availability because of deficient rainfall and remunerative price offered by fodder contractors to cane farmers.

Even as cotton and rice farmers are looking skyward for rains, sugarcane farmers, who had sown the crop late last year and earlier this year, are cutting their standing crop to sell them as fodder.

A Kolhapur-based agriculture expert, Mr Raosaheb Pujari, said fodder contractors are offering Rs 2,500 a tonne for sugarcane, which is more than the rate offered by some of the sugar factories.

About 60-80 tonnes of sugarcane is harvested from one acre field.

This translates into Rs 1.5- 2 lakh of ready cash for the farmers, he added.

“A farmer usually gets his dues from the sugar factory after a wait of 8-10 months. But if he sells his sugarcane to the cattle feed contractor then he gets his money immediately,” said Mr Pujari.

Due to scarce rains, fodder availability has dipped across the State. Moreover, making fodder out of agriculture waste is also getting expensive.

Sugarcane, along with the green fronds at the top, is being cut into small billets and fed to the cattle as fodder, said Mr Pujari.

Mr Rajgopal Deora, Maharashtra’s Secretary for Cooperation, said increasing diversion of sugarcane for cattle feed is a cause for concern. Cane is usually harvested at the end of the 12-15 month cycle in September. But due to the demand from the cattle feed sector, farmers are harvesting crops as young as six months. After harvesting, the farm land can be used for other crops, he said.

At present, the Maharashtra Government is the biggest procurer of cattle fodder.

As a drought relief measure, green fodder and water is being given free to cattle owners, who have placed their animals in 29 animal relief camps. About 230 fodder depots have also been opened for feeding the animals.