The dismal situation for most farmers in Maharashtra continues as, even days after the arrival of monsoon, the rainfall is inadequate and farmers have little to cheer about. Sustained absence of rains has resulted in little or no sowing activity.
Urban consumers can feel the brunt of the delayed monsoon and sporadic rains as the steep rise in prices of vegetables like tomatoes and onions, and the high prices of tur and chana daal, have hit them. At the same time, almost all dairies in the state have increased the retail price of milk in plastic pouches by Rs 2 per litre. This has stoked fear about the return of food inflation. But all of it is not bad news. Once monsoon rain finally finds its momentum in the next few weeks, sowing activities are expected to pick up. The prices of vegetables and milk, however, may take some time to drop to normal levels.
The impact on sowing activity
Data released by the state Agriculture Department has revealed that there has been a 97 per cent dip in sowing this year, when compared to the sowing activity in this period last year.
As on June 18, only 39,176 hectares of farmland have reported sowing of any kind. Last year, on June 22, sowing had been completed on as much as 12.04 lakh hectares in the state. Due to lack of moisture in the soil, farmers had put on hold the sowing of pulses, soyabean, sugarcane, cotton, paddy and some vegetables. Some portions of Konkan and southern Maharashtra have seen nursery plantation of paddy and some millets, but most farmers are yet to begin their operations.
The silver lining is that in the last 72 hours, there has been a good spell of rain and if the rainfall remains consistent, sowing activity will pick up in the coming days, but farmers may decide not to cultivate some short-duration crops.
The crops affected
The main crops which may have missed their sowing window are pulses like moong and urad. Grown within a period of 90-100 days, the sowing window of both pulses ends by mid-June. If sown later than usual, there is a possibility of rain at the time of harvest and subsequent crop loss. Usually, Maharashtra has nearly 8 lakh hectares of area for both crops, with farmers in Marathwada and Vidarbha predominantly cultivating the crop. While reduction in the area of cultivation in Maharashtra may not have much of an effect on the national basket, as produce from Rajasthan and Telangana would compensate for any shortfall, this may lead to a slight rise in the prices of moong and urad daal.
Once the sowing window gets over, farmers prefer to opt for long-duration crops like tur, soyabean and cotton. Soyabean is the sturdiest of the lot and is resilient towards the many vagaries of nature.
Maharashtra reports around 37-38 lakh hectares of land under oilseed and this year, the acreage is expected to go up by 10 per cent. Throughout the last season, the oilseed had traded above its government-specified minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 3,399 per quintal, giving farmers an incentive to opt for the crop.
Another crop that may see more cultivation is cotton, given the better realisation farmers have received in wholesale markets. But farmers are also wary of yield loss due to delayed sowing.
Delayed sowing can cause up to 20-30 per cent less yield as rains, during the crucial picking time, can harm the produce. Maharashtra reports around 40 lakh hectares of cotton area, which is likely to see a slight dip due to delayed rains.
The prices of pulses, which had earlier been on the higher side, have corrected themselves in the last few weeks. Several steps, such as the Centre’s approval for an additional quota for import, directions to NAFED to offload its stock and a veiled attack on black-marketers and hoarders have led to a correction in prices, both in wholesale and retail prices. Tur daal, which was retailing in Latur’s wholesale markets for Rs 85-86 per kg, has since then settled at Rs 81-83 per kg. Similarly, the retail price of daal in Pune, which had crossed Rs 120 per kg, has since then dropped to Rs 95-100 per kg.
Of immediate concern for urban consumers, however, is the higher prices of vegetables and milk. In Pune’s retail markets, the price of tomatoes (Rs 50-60 per kg), onion (Rs 20-25 per kg) and beans (Rs 120 per kg) have caused much concern for retail consumers. The price rise ia a result of the falling production of summer vegetables, due to the water scarcity. The present trend may continue as the delayed monsoon will take a toll on the arrival of the new crop. As of now, the new crop of vegetables is expected to arrive by the end of July and prices are expected to fall only after that. Similarly, it will take some time before the price of milk, which have seen a Rs 2 per litre increase, corrects itself.