Over 1.24 lakh hectares of farmland spread over 1,086 villages in Maharashtra have been adversely affected in the ongoing spell of unseasonal rain and hailstorm which started on Saturday.
There are reports of four deaths as people met with accidents while taking shelter from the hailstorm. The preliminary findings of the state agriculture department show damage to standing crops of chana and wheat, both of which were almost harvest ready.
Since Saturday, 11 districts mainly in the Marathwada and Vidharbha regions have reported hailstorms. The districts of Buldhana, Amravati, Akola and Washim in Vidarbha have also got light showers. Two of the deaths were reported from Buldhana where farmers had taken shelter under trees to avoid the hailstones.
Maharashtra’s Agriculture Minister Pandurang Fundkar has asked for immediate panchanamas to be conducted to speed up the distribution of the compensation to farmers whose crops were ruined. By far, chana was at the
risk of sustaining maximum damage. However, due to the localised nature of the hailstorms and absence of heavy rain, agriculture officers reported medium-term damage to the crop.
Shrikant Kulkarni, a farmer from Tandulja village in Latur district, said of his 10 acres of chana, two acres were affected adversely. “The two acres which were hit were in a different part of the village. Fortunately, the majority of my holdings was unaffected as it was not in the hail affected area,” he said. Similarly, trade negated any significant crop damage because of the ongoing spell of this untimely weather phenomenon. Chana as a crop, agriculture officers say is mostly sown over a period of one month starting from October. Thus, the crop gets ready for harvest from the first week of February with wholesale markets reporting increased arrival from the third week of the month. Thus in parts of the state, the harvest ready crop has been hit, while in other areas the crop which was in the last stages of pod filling had born the brunt of the hailstorms. Wheat, jowar, onions are planted mostly post November so those crops are in various stages of growth.
The hailstorm and rain that is expected to last till Tuesday, agriculture officers said, will at most affect 4-5 per cent of the crop. Arrival of the crop might be delayed in some parts but the bigger worry for farmers would be the loss of quality of the produce which can affect their realisation. Maharashtra has reported 19.77 lakh hectares of land under chana this year.
Maharashtra was found most prone state in India to hailstorms, with 91-95 per cent instances realised, highlighted a 2017 study by a team of weather scientists from India Meteorological Department (IMD). What makes this hailstorm peculiar is its timing, an arrival early by nearly a fortnight. “Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh usually experiences hail during late February or early March, but this year it occurred early,” said N Chattopadhyay, deputy director-general (agriculture meteorology), IMD.
According to weather experts, there is a discontinued pattern of westerly winds interacting with easterlies at low levels, making conditions favourable for hailstorms. Since last week, a strong cyclonic circulation prevailed over eastern Maharashtra, under the influence of which there was interaction between warm and moist winds from the Bay of Bengal and cold westerlies winds taking place.
And the reason to worry is that the season for hail is still weeks ahead. “Maharashtra is not just experiencing more incidents of hail, but their intensities have also been observed to be gaining strength,” said the Agrimet chief. Accordingly, the Agrimet department had first issued hailstorm warning over Vidarbha and Marathwada in its February 9 advisory, where farmers of wheat, gram, grapes, sweet lime, oranges were particularly warned. However, what worries them now is the post-hail precaution to be taken by farmers of Jalna, Beed, Washim and Akola.