With the southwest monsoon rainfall 6.8% above normal so far and farmers planting kharif crops on a record 1,095.38 lakh hectares (6.3% higher than last year), a bumper harvest should be in the offing. But the story isn’t that straightforward.
Ground reports from Madhya Pradesh (MP), India’s largest soyabean and urad (black gram) producer, suggest significant damage to the crop — first from an extended dry spell in July and then too much rain towards the last week of August.
“Jhaadi aur phali sadh gayi hai (both the plant and the pods have rotted),” said Rao Gulab Singh Lodhi from Nanhegaon village in MP’s Narsinghpur district who has sown soyabean on 35 acres and urad on another 15 acres of his 75-acre land. The entire standing soyabean and urad have been destroyed by incessant showers from around Ganesh Chaturthi (August 22) that got particularly heavy over the last four days of the month.
Farmers mostly sow soyabean and urad by late-June or first week of July. The pod setting in urad, which matures in 70-75 days, takes place after 55-60 days. “The heavy rains coincided with the pod formation stage. The maximum damage from water-logging has been to the crop in the Narmada basin with heavy flooding of the river,” said Suresh Agarwal, president of the Indore-based All-India Dal Mill Association, while estimating a minimum 10-15% production dip.
“Urad is a total washout, while losses in soyabean would be about 80% in the main Narmada belt districts of Harda, Hoshangabad, Sehore and Dewas. The banana crop in Khandwa and Burhanpur and chilli in Khargone, Barwani, Dhar and Ratlam have also suffered,” claimed Kedar Sirohi, state president of Congress’s kisan cell.
However, Nita Khandekar, who heads the Indian Institute of Soyabean Research at Indore, expects the crop loss, as of now, at only “10-15%, and not more than 20%”.
The monsoon rains arrived early this time due to the effect of the Severe Cyclonic Storm Nisarga. It led to many farmers sowing soyabean early, by June 15. This early crop escaped damage from the floods since the pods were already formed by then.
According to Khandekar, yields of short-duration (85-90 days) varieties such as JS-9560, which were planted later, would have been affected. That, in turn, was the result of a long dry spell after July 10 that lasted for almost a month. “The lack of rains made the crop susceptible to stem fly (an insect pest) and rhizoctonia aerial blight and anthracnose fungal attacks,” she explained.
In other words, farmers were hit both by deficient rains in July and excess in August. At the same time, Khandekar feels that longer-duration soyabean varieties (maturing in about 100 days), such as JS 97-52, 2079 and NRC-127 that are currently in the fields, are in good shape.
Farmers in MP have sown soyabean on 58.49 lakh hectares (lh) and urad on 16 lh, out of the country’s total 120.62 lh and 37.92 lh area under these two crops respectively. But apart from these two crops, there are reports coming in of damage to the kharif onion crop in North Karnataka and Maharashtra from excessive August rains.
“Karnataka growers plant kharif onion in April for harvesting in August-September. This has been practically washed away. In Maharashtra, too, there is 10-15% damage. In addition, the rains have taken a toll on the stored onions from the last rabi (harvested in March-April) in MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra,” said Jaydutt Holkar, chairman of the APMC (agriculture product market committee) mandi at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra.
Average modal prices at this wholesale market, India’s largest for the bulb, have already climbed from Rs 750 to Rs 2,100 per quintal in the last one month. Traders don’t expect prices to ease till the arrival of the new kharif crop from Maharashtra in early-November.