Updated: March 20, 2015 5:36:03 am
Unseasonal rain in large parts of north, west and central India since early this month brought a grim prognosis for farmers. HARISH DAMODARAN analyses.
Which crops are worst affected?
Pulses, mustard, vegetables, seed spices from coriander to jeera. Waterlogging has hit potato in Aligarh, leading to rotting. But this has been offset by bumper production in West Bengal and the east. Potato is retailing at Rs 8/kg in Kolkata; state plans to give freight subsidy to bail out farmers selling in distress.
Why was this rain so lethal?
Because of when it came. March is when the rabi crop — be it wheat, mustard or pulses such as chana and masur — is either at the reproductive (i.e., flowering and seed-setting) or grain-filling, and even ripening stages. At this time, unlike the earlier germination, tillering and vegetative growth stages, rainfall is generally undesirable. Light showers may help to keep temperatures low so there is proper grain formation and no premature ripening — but we had heavy rain accompanied by strong winds and hail in many places. Some areas like south-eastern Rajasthan (Sawai Madhopur, Bundi, Kota and Jhalawar) got up to 130 mm of rain in a single day this week.
South-eastern Rajasthan and adjoining areas of MP (Shivpuri, Gwalior, Morena, Bhind) and UP (Jhansi, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Banda) is the mustard belt. “There’s been extensive damage,” S Chandra, director of Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals, a farm extension consultancy firm, said. Mustard is harvested from the third week of February to mid-March. “Farmers would have kept the crop out to dry before threshing. Moisture ingress from the pods would have caused the seeds inside to germinate, which could affect the amount of oil that can be extracted,” Chandra said.
What about chana and masur?
Much of the crop was in the grain-filling stage, and would have suffered significant damage. Even for the crop that was in the flowering or pod-formation stage, such heavy rain would have been bad. Quality issues like discolouration and non-uniform size of grains are likely.
And the traditionally politically sensitive onion crop?
The picture is not clear yet. The late kharif crop that is harvested in January-March and accounts for about 30 per cent of the total output, has faced the most damage. More important is the fate of the main rabi crop (50 per cent of production) that will be harvested from mid-April to mid-July. “We are getting some reports of the standing rabi crop having been affected in places like Nasik. A clearer picture should emerge in coming days,” said Pradipta Sahoo, Business Head (Horticulture) at Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable Pvt Ltd.
Is there any good news at all?
According to Sahoo, the impact on vegetables might be temporary. “Supply of spinach, coriander, fenugreek, mint and mustard leaves has been badly hit. But these are typically 25 to 40 days crops. We should see normalcy restored in the next crop cycle,” Sahoo said.
Will you pay more for farm produce?
On the whole, it appears the farmer, not the consumer, will pay more for the weather aberrations. Pulses, some vegetables and mustard oil may become dearer, but prices of rice, wheat, milk and imported edible oils (soya, sunflower, palm) are unlikely to increase much. For that, one must thank the current global commodity bear cycle.
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