Months before the 2019-20 crushing season takes off, sugar millers in Maharashtra have sounded the alarm about the possibility of a drastic dip in production. Maharashtra, which accounts for about 34 per cent of India’s total sugar production, may end up producing less than half of 107.2 lakh tonnes (lt), its output in the last season.
Cane growers in Maharashtra normally take three crops which are harvested within 15 to 8 months of them being planted.
The adsali crop, planted in June and July after the first rains, is harvested after 18 months, while suru is planted in December-January and harvested after 15 months, and the pre-seasonal crop, planted in October- November, is harvested after 14-15 months. Cane farmers also grow ratoon cane from the stubble of the harvested crop, as this helps them save the additional cost of seeds and land preparation among others.
In the dry and arid regions of Solapur and north Maharashtra, including Ahmednagar and Marathwada, suru and preseasonal crops are common, with farmers also growing cane from ratoon crops. Together, these regions contribute around 40 per cent of the state’s sugar production. As the crop is heavily dependent on rains and the level of groundwater, it is severely affected by an erratic monsoon.
Unlike western Maharashtra, where farmers have better irrigation facilities, farmers in these regions are heavily dependent on the monsoon for saving their crops.
While Lok Sabha elections have dominated headlines in the last couple of months, shifting the focus from drought-hit regions, the situation on the ground remains bleak.
Maharashtra’s drought invariably affects these regions the most and the ongoing drought was no exception. With reservoirs running dry, farmers are unable to save the ratoon crop, which comprises 60 per cent of the cane available for crushing. Most farmers in these areas have not been able to plant either the preseasonal or suru cane as their sources of irrigation, like bore wells and tanks, have already dried out. With virtually no water for their crop, farmers have started uprooting the ratoon cane.
This may affect the operations of mills after October 2019, say worried millers.