The yellow flowers have started to blossom at the first sign of warmth after a long spell of cold. Farmers of Kashmir are at work in their fields, which had been covered under snow during most of the winter.
“If you see these mustard fields, they look beautiful around this time. Winter here lasts six months and during that season no work takes place because of the snow. We have started working after six months,” says Mohammed Ismail of Bandipora.
The valley has been trying to meet an oilseed deficit by bringing more and more land under mustard cultivation. Agriculture department officials The Indian Express spoke to did not specify the demand-supply gap but said they expect six to seven quintals per hectare from 86,000 hectares, and projected a 20 per cent jump in yield since last year.
The snow that held up farming can also be a boon, because it means a better crop. The snowfall was particularly good in the winter just ended. “The snowfall this time was healthy, there was enough water for the fields and the produce will be good,” Ismail says.
“This will be Kashmir’s first produce from Kashmir after the winter,” he adds. That makes mustard a key crop and the government has taken up various measures to promote its cultivation and help farmers.
Altaf Andrabi, seed officer in the Department of Agriculture, says mustard growers get 33 per cent subsidy on the crop. “We have 86,000 hectares land under mustard cultivation, which yields six to seven quintals per hectare. We give 33 per cent of subsidies on high-yield varieties and this year we have provided farmers 1,200 quintals with Rs 8 lakh in subsidies to them,” Andrabi says.
Mustard is an annual crop. Sowing is done in the months of September and October. Once winter ends, the rising temperature causes the rapeseed-mustard crop to blossom, and harvesting is done in towards the end of May.
Mustard is sown as one half of double cropping. “Mustard is sown as a double crop with paddy and the variety sown is usually KoS 101,” Andrabi says.
Apart from its aesthetic value — tourists during the mustard season are fascinated by fields that turn the valley golden — mustard oil is used in most local dishes and is also consumed as it is considered good for health.
The medicinal values notwithstanding, not all farmers are keen to go for large-scale cultivation as the turnover is low in comparison to other crops.
“Mustard gives farmers just Rs 1,000, which in turn leads to less agricultural land under mustard,” says Andrabi, explaining why the the state has been struggling to meet its oil demand. “The state is already short in oilseed production and the yield from the mustard fields is low as cultivation is not extensive,” Andrabi says.
Farmers prefer to grow mustard only when the field is not occupied by other crops, or just before the paddy plantation season. It gives them the benefit of crop rotation, which replenishes the soil and prepares it for paddy cultivation, says Ghulam Nabi of Ganderbal.
India has nearly 4.5 million hectares under mustard production, followed by China, Canada, Poland, France and Pakistan.