With sowing for the ongoing Kharif season over, castor has emerged as the crop which has logged a jump of 20.15 per cent, the highest for any single crop, above its normal sowing area. It is largely due to a very good monsoon in the state this year and the impressive price that the oilseed fetches to the farmers.
According to the data available with the directorate of agriculture of Gujarat, as of September 16, farmers had sown castor in 6.78 lakh hectare (lh) in the state. That makes it the fourth single largest cash crop of Gujarat after cotton (26.66 lh), groundnut (15.52 lh) and paddy (8.46 lh). Fodder crops have been sown in 12.58 lh but they are a group of crops.
The 6.78 lh acreage for castor represents 20.15 per cent increase in the area under cultivation of this crop when compared to an average 5.64 lh recorded over the last three years. However, it is more than 33 per cent higher compared to 5.07 lh under castor cultivation last year when there was a drought in many parts of north Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch regions. These three regions form the castor belt of Gujarat, the state with highest acreage and highest production of this oilseed in India.
Banaskantha, Patan, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Gandhinagar and Aravalli in north Gujarat region account for 3.51 lh of castor acreage this season. That is more than half of the entire crop area in the state. Kutch region, which is a single district but have geographical features distinct from other regions of the state, is second with 1.33 lh under castor cultivation this year. With 1.03 lh, Saurashtra, the region formed by 11 districts, is third.
Patan has emerged as the single largest castor district with farmers having sown this long-duration crop in 94,800 hectare. It is followed by Banaskantha with 93,300 ha and Mehsana (87,100 ha). Surendranagar in Saurashtra has reported castor sowing in 69,700 ha, the fourth highest in the state. Morbi (22,900 ha) is the other Saurashtra district which has seen significant sowing of the oilseed.
Officers of the state agriculture department say good market prices of castor seeds and low cultivation costs have led farmers to opt for castor instead of cotton.
“Narmada waters are available in Patan and therefore there is an assured irrigation facility. If farmers manage to irrigate their crops six times during the season, they can harvest up to 10 quintals per bigha (60.25 quintals per hectare). In contrast, Cotton productivity is six quintals per bigha at the most. Farmers get around Rs 5,000 per quintal for cotton, whereas their average realisation for castor seeds was average Rs 4,000 per quintal. But the real difference is in the cultivation cost. If sown late, castor crop can escape attack of castor semi-looper pests and save farmers cost of pesticides. On the other hand, cotton has become increasingly vulnerable to pink bollworm attacks in recent years and its productivity has gone down therefore. So more farmers are choosing castor over cotton as it is also less labour-intensive,” Shailesh Patel, district agriculture officer of Patan said on Tuesday.
Castor sowing is recommended from mid-July onward to end of September. Most of the farmers grow Gujarat Castor Hybrid-7, a variety with comparatively low plant height but more branches which bear castor-bean pods.
Castor oil is used as a preservative as well as a solvent. Castor-pod chaff is used as fodder, while deoiled castor castor-seed cake is used as fertiliser.
Besides castor, sesame seeds is the other oil seed crop which has recorded 106 per cent sowing as compared to average. Groundnut acreage stands at 98.86 per cent whereas oilseed crops as a group have recorded sowing in 24.51 lh (102 per cent against average) this year. Food grain crops have also recorded sowing in 13.64 lh (100.82 per cent), while cash crops and fodder crops, which include cotton, tobacco etc, have recorded sowing in total 43 lh or 103 per cent against average. Paddy and pearl millet acreage too have registered growth of 6.12 per cent and 5.10 per cent respectively over their average, while cotton acreage is also up 103 per cent against average. Fodder crops acreage has also gone up to 114 per cent against normal.
However, there is a major drop in the acreage of pulses. The area sown under pulses stands at 4.04 lh, only 69.72 per cent of the last three year’s average. None of the main pulses crops like red gram, green gram, black gram and moth bean has seen acreage more than 84 per cent of their three-year average.
Officers ascribe this phenomenon to the pattern of monsoon rains this year. “It did not rain from the second week of July onward to second week of August. Therefore, farmers who grow pulses as inter-crop with main crops like cotton, castor etc could not sow them. Therefore, their acreage has remained low,” says Patel.
A top officer in the state agriculture department says that oil seed crops are fetching better returns to farmer as compared to pulses and hence the drop.
Pulses are a major crop group in north and central Gujarat regions.
State as a whole has reported sowing in total 85.29 lh which is 100.62 per cent of the average. Of that, 37.78 lh has been reported from Saurashtra, 17.45 lh from north Gujarat, 16.58 from central Gujarat and the rest from south Gujarat region, the DAG data show.
The better-than-normal sowing in the state comes on the back of the state receiving 121.63 per cent of rainfall against last 10 year’s average. According to rainfall data collected by the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority, Kutch region has received 142 per cent rainfall, north Gujarat 93.86 per cent, central Gujarat 112 per cent, Saurashtra 120.82 per cent and south Gujarat has registered 133 per cent rainfall so far this monsoon.