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India’s wheat production could be impacted this year if temperature rises in the crucial February-March as predicted by the Met Department, a top ICAR official said on Tuesday. He also said the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is hastening research on developing new wheat varieties to cope with high temperature due to climate change. But still, it will take a couple of years to reach farmers. Wheat is a highly temperature-sensitive crop. Recently, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast warmer winter for this year.
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The sowing of wheat, the main rabi (winter) crop, is still under way in the country. Wheat has been sown in 173.93 lakh hectares till last week of the 2016 rabi season, much higher than 152.56 lakh hectares in the year-ago period. “If temperature rises, as predicted by IMD, in crucial February and March, it will really impact wheat crop yields and the overall production,” ICAR Director General Trilochan Mohapatra told PTI. The studies have sown that one degree rise in temperature impacts 10 per cent wheat yields, he said. The average wheat yield in India is 3-4 tonnes per hectare while in Punjab, it is up to 6-7 tonnes per hectare.
Asked if there are any solutions to deal with high temperature, Mohapatra said, “We can manage with agronomical practices. We will recommend that to farmers.” As per government estimates, wheat output was 93.50 million tonnes in the 2015-16 crop year (July-June) as against 86.53 million tonnes in the previous year. Mohapatra tried to allay fears, stating that there is no concern as such about wheat crop at present as much of the wheat sowing is done and it will get over by the month-end. “But we need to keep a close watch on the crop condition during February-March.”
Farmers have sown normal wheat varieties and some have gone for late-sown varieties that have some degree of tolerance to high temperature, he added. Asked if the country could have imported heat-tolerant seeds had IMD forecast come earlier, Mohapatra said, “You can source this kind of seeds, but it is not easy to adapt to Indian conditions. India has short winter unlike other wheat growing nations.”
He acknowledged that better planning can be done if IMD forecast comes a few months in advance. Noting that ICAR is accelerating research work, Mohapatra said, “We are working on developing high temperature-tolerant wheat varieties and trying all technologies like molecular breeding to get early results.” Already, a facility has been created at Karnal-based Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research to screen germplasm and identify lines tolerant to high temperature. “This line should go to breeders. All this will take 10-12 years to develop new variety. Now, we are trying to cut short that by two years or so,” he added.