Punjab’s potato growers have been facing another bad year. The Indian Express explains why the problem is recurrent and what can be done.
What is the current price of potato in wholesale and retail markets?
Punjab farmers have begun harvesting this year’s potato crop. The season will continue until March 2019. With cold stores still stocked with 25 per cent of last year’s harvest, the wholesale rate of the crop is Rs 2.50 to Rs 3.50 per kg, almost the same as in 2016 and 2017. Consumers on the other hand are paying retail prices of Rs 15 to 20 per kg. Farmers say they are being cheated by the middlemen.
What is per kg production cost of potato?
Punjab is major grower of seed potato. Out of its total 2.3 MT production, 65 per cent comprises seed potatoes produced in 98,000-odd hectares across the four Doaba region districts of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr.
Production cost of seed potato is Rs 9 per kg, much higher than the table variety. It includes Rs 3 for harvesting, packing and keeping in cold stores or transportation to mandies. Seed potato is harvested in February-March and then kept in cold stores to supply to other states during the year.
Punjab grows around 35 per cent table potato, the harvesting of which starts in December. The cost of production is Rs 5.5 to Rs 6 per kg. Farmers get around 80-100 quintal potato from one acre of seed potato and 120 to 140 qunital per acre table potatoes. Growers say their operations are not viable if the rate goes below Rs 1,000 per quintal potato, or Rs 10 per kg.
Why the glut like situation every alternate year or sometimes 2-3 years continuously?
Punjab is a major supplier of seed potato to farmers in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and other producing states. Seed potato rate cost ranges from Rs 2500-3000 for branded and Rs 1800-2000 for unbranded varieties. As seed purchasers of other states cannot afford to plant new seed every year, they use seed from their own potato crop for the second year. This is what leads to the glut every alternate year.
Potato growers in Punjab then face double loss — keeping potatoes in cold stores (rental cost of Rs 22-23 per quintal per month) for months; and, disposing their costly seed potato as table potato in the market, as the stores need to make space for the new crop. Since 2007 there have been only three excellent years, three average and four including current year bad years for potato growers.
What is the way out?
According to farmers and experts, if government streamlines the wholesale and retail prices by keeping a control on middlemen or traders, they would be able to recover the cost if not the profits. They said government’s intervention is required to include Punjab in TOP (Tomato-Onion-Potato) Scheme so that government can purchase potato at fair price. Like Kinnow crop, the government should help potato growers through e-markets and facilitate export to Middle East countries and to Russia.
Has the state government done anything to help?
Not this year yet, but last year on the direction of the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, Markfed, a government-owned unit, had purchased around 450 tonnes (4500 quintals) of the potatoes for supplying to schools under mid-day meal scheme, but it was too little. Secretary, Agriculture and Managing Director, Punjab Agro, Sibin C said that they held a meeting in which the matter of potato export to Middle East countries was discussed.