Updated: April 25, 2022 10:07:19 am
Government wheat procurement in Punjab is set to fall to a 15-year low, with private purchases likely to cross five lakh tonnes (lt) for the first time since 2007. This comes on the back of rising export and domestic market demand, fuelled by the Russia-Ukraine war, and lower crop yields due to the abnormal spike in temperatures from mid-March.
Government agencies, including the Food Corporation of India, had bought 83.49 lt of wheat in the current rabi marketing season (April-June) as of Sunday evening. “Going by the daily market arrivals, which have clearly slowed down, total procurement may not even reach 100 lt this time,” a senior Punjab Mandi Board official told The Indian Express.
Government wheat purchases from Punjab — which is also the largest contributor to the Central pool — hit a record 132.14 lt in the 2021 season. The last time that procurement fell below 100 lt was back in 2007 and 2006, when these totaled 70.99 lt and 69.07 lt respectively.
In 2006 and 2007 — which also saw soaring international prices leading to a global food crisis — private purchases from Punjab’s mandis amounted to 13.12 lt and 9.18 lt, respectively. This year, cumulative private wheat purchases were at 4.61 lt as on Sunday, compared to a mere 1.14 lt for the whole of the last season, 1.93 lt in 2020, 2.80 lt in 2019 and 2.06 lt in 2018.
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“We expect the 5 lt-mark to be crossed in the next 3-4 days. That will be the first time since 2007,” informed the earlier-quoted official. Private traders and flour millers are also said to be sourcing grain from outside government-regulated APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandis. These purchases, including directly from farmers, aren’t officially recorded.
Kulwinder Singh, a farmer from Gadaya village in Nabha tehsil of Patiala district, is yet to sell any of his 115 quintals of wheat grain from seven acres. The 55-year-old sold 130 out of his entire 140 quintals crop last year to government agencies at the minimum support price (MSP), while retaining the rest for the family’s self-consumption.
“I will not sell this time to the government or even private traders now. I expect to realise better prices later on. The MSP (of Rs 2,015/quintal) is anyway too low, when my yields have dropped to below 16.5 quintals per acre, from 20 quintals last year,” he said.
Swaran Singh (43) has harvested 120 quintals – some 34 quintals less than last year’s – from his 6-acre holding in Poohli village of Bathinda district’s Nathana tehsil. He has already sold 88 quintals to the government at the MSP, while holding on to the remaining 32 quintals: “Some traders are offering Rs 2,100/quintal through my arhatiya (commission agent). I don’t mind waiting for some more time”. He, too, is hoping for higher prices to compensate for yield losses from the early onset of summer, which led to premature ripening and drying of the crop.
Both farmers, interestingly, participated in the agitation against the Centre’s three farm laws that were passed in September 2020 and repealed in November 2021. “We are happy that the vyapaari (private trader) is buying more wheat from us. But if the sarkari (government) MSP and APMC mandi go tomorrow, the Vyapaari will loot us,” claimed Kulwinder, who was a regular at the protest site in Singhu on the Haryana-Delhi border.
Punjab accounted for 132.14 lt out of the country’s total government procurement of 433.44 lt in 2021, followed by Madhya Pradesh (128.16 lt), Haryana (84.93 lt), Uttar Pradesh (56.41 lt) and Rajasthan (23.40 lt). With all these states also reporting much lower purchases, the all-India figure could even dip to below 250 lt this year, according to some estimates.
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