While the extent of damage from Thursday’s heavy rainfall and even hailstorms in the National Capital Region, Punjab, Haryana, many parts of Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh is still being assessed, one thing is clear: Rains at this point are undesirable for the mustard, chana (chickpea) and potato crops that are in late-maturity/early-harvesting stage, while not all that bad for wheat.
What is particularly ominous is the Met Department’s forecast of a fresh Western Disturbance – the source of the current thundershowers – from February 10, followed by another one affecting the plains of Northwest India after February 13.
The mustard crop that is normally planted during the first half of October is now in the crucial pod-filling stage, with flowering and seed-setting already completed by January-end. Rains during this time – when the kernels are still accumulating starch, fat and protein matter – can impact yields.
“We haven’t so far received reports of any major damage, though there may be isolated fields where the crop has been felled by hailstones. We only hope that the rains don’t persist, as that can also be conductive to fungal diseases such as sclerotinia stem rot and alternaria blight (which lead to the crop’s premature ripening or the pods producing shrivelled or discoloured seeds),” said Pramod Kumar Rai, head of the Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research at Bharatpur, Rajasthan.
The real damage, according to him, would be to the crop that may have been sown towards the last week of September. “Such early-sown mustard is taken in areas where no kharif (post-monsoon) crop is grown. This crop – which farmers basically grow by using the residual moisture from the monsoon rains – would already be ready for harvesting and there could be some damage to the grains from moisture ingress. But the bulk of mustard is planted only from early-October after harvesting of bajra (pigeon-pea), fodder guar (cluster-bean), maize or even paddy. And that crop looks fine as of now,” Rai added.
The risk of untimely rains and hail now – when the standing rabi (winter) season crops are in grain-filling or ripening stages – is no less for chana, masur (lentil), potato, jeera (cumin-seed) and dhania (coriander), which are also harvested during February-March.
Wheat is an exception: The crop that is sown by November 15 is still in late-tillering (production of multiple side stems from the initial parent shoot) stage. The transition from the “vegetative” to the next “reproductive” phase – when flowering and pollination happens – is only 80-90 days after sowing.
“There may be some places where planting would have taken place in the last week of October and the baali (earheads) has started emerging from the tillers. That crop could have suffered damage from hailstones. But the timely or late-sown (after mid-November) wheat will have no such problems. Rains now are actually beneficial. Not only will they save one round of irrigation, but also bring down temperatures and prolong the winter, which is great for yields,” pointed out Pritam Singh Hanjra, a farmer from Urlana Khurd village in Madlauda tehsil of Haryana.
For farmers, the worst case scenario is a repeat of March 2015. That month – the wettest March in 48 years – saw unseasonal rains, accompanied by hailstorms and gusty winds, lash large swathes of north, west and central India. The Union Agriculture Ministry estimated the total area where the standing or just-harvested rabi crop got affected at 182.38 lakh hectares.