The Union agriculture ministry will, most likely early next week, release the first advance estimates of this year’s kharif crop output. What is more or less clear, though, is that overall farm production this time isn’t going to be as good as last year. There are two reasons for this.
The first is the southwest monsoon rains, which haven’t been as well-distributed, both spatially and temporally, as in 2016. Although the country as a whole received four per cent and 1.7 per cent above-average rainfall in June and July, respectively, the Deep South belt — covering much of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — experienced a dry spell, coming on top of last year’s drought/near-drought conditions. These tracts have since seen some revival, even if too late for sowing, but rains at an all-India level have been deficient by 12.7 per cent in August and by 31.3 per cent so far this month. Since August, rainfall activity has been particularly weak across Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Add to this the impact of flooded fields from excess rains in parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal, the picture doesn’t look all that pretty.
Secondly, the agriculture ministry’s own data on area sown during the current kharif season shows a decline over last year for most crops, barring cotton and sugarcane. Lack of rains has especially hit Karnataka, with the state reporting lower acreages under maize, jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl-millet), rice, arhar (pigeon-pea), moong (green gram), groundnut, soyabean and sunflower. MP has recorded higher plantings of urad (black gram), moong, maize, bajra, jowar and sesamum, but it remains to be seen to what extent their yields — and also of soyabean, the state’s main kharif crop — have been affected by the extended dry weather from August.
In all, we can, at best, expect a decent kharif crop this time and, at any rate, not the record-breaking production of rice, maize, arhar, urad and moong achieved last year. More worrying, however, is the prospects for the ensuing rabi season, the plantings for which take place from end-October. According to the Central Water Commission’s latest available information as on September 7, water levels in 91 major reservoirs of the country were only 57.8 per cent of their total live storage capacity.
During the same time last year, these reservoirs were 68.5 per cent full, while the last 10-year-average storage level for this period was also higher at 68.9 per cent. Current water levels are below their corresponding ten-year-average in as many as 47 out of the 91 reservoirs, with the situation most precarious in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
That, together with the monsoon’s weakening in the second half of the season (August-September), translates into relatively poor water availability for growing wheat, chana (chickpea), masur (lentil) and mustard. This would be more so in Madhya Pradesh, which is a major producer of all these rabi crops. That, in turn, rules out a repeat of 2016-17, which had witnessed an all-time-high production of wheat as well.