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Dry State: A better pulse rate

Vidarbha’s farmers have escaped the worst of drought this year and hope to gain from high arhar prices.

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Wardha (maharashtra) |
December 3, 2015 1:25:51 am
Two farmers, two fields: (Above) Dilip Pohane with his bumper arhar crop. (Below) The Shendurkar couple with their not-so-good crop. (Express Photo by: Deepak Daware) Dilip Pohane with his bumper arhar crop. (Express Photo by: Deepak Daware)

About 95 km from Nagpur and to the left of National Highway-7 leading to Hyderabad is a 14-acre farm that is now the cynosure of many eyes.

This field, at Daroda village in Hinganghat tehsil of Wardha district, radiates only green with no traces of white or brown dots — uncharacteristic for a state experiencing excruciating drought and for a region often seen as the epitome of rural distress. As one enters it, some seven-feet tall arhar (tur or pigeon-pea) plants bent from the middle with their tips virtually kissing the ground attract instant attention. The apparent lodging is not a result of any lashing of rains, but due to the individual plants laden with the weight of beans numbering anywhere from 750 to 2,000 per plant. And that’s precisely why Dilip Pohane is getting a string of visitors.

The high yields are particularly obvious in a two-acre irrigated patch out of Pohane’s total 14-acre holding. “I expect 60 quintals from these two acres,” says this 44-year-old, 12th class pass farmer. His claim of 30 quintals per acre yield isn’t dismissed by the agriculture officer of Hinganghat tehsil SD Sakhare, who puts it only slightly lower at 27.5 quintals: “Either way, this is unbelievable in a region (Vidarbha), where you rarely get anything beyond 5-7 quintals in irrigated conditions,” he points out.

Even in his 12-acre non-irrigated land, Pohane is looking forward to harvesting 6.5 quintals of arhar per acre, as against average yields of two quintals for most farmers. “I do proper crop management, starting with preparation of seedbed for sowing to ensure free air flow at the roots. I also give two doses of fertilisers, one in the beginning and the other in the middle of the season. In August, I do cropping of branches that help in formation of more new branches, leading to increased pod/bean yields,” he explains. And interestingly, Pohane hasn’t planted seeds of any certified established variety or hybrids. “I have sourced seeds not from the market, but those developed by a friend through a process of natural selection,” he reveals.

The Shendurkar couple with their not-so-good crop.   (Express Photo by: Deepak Daware) The Shendurkar couple with their not-so-good crop. (Express Photo by: Deepak Daware)

Farmers in Vidarbha normally sow arhar in mid-June and it is planted as an intercrop in alternate rows with either soyabean or cotton. Pohane has shunned cotton in the last couple of years — because of low price realisations — while cultivating arhar intercropped with soyabean that is harvested by end-September. Pohane managed to reap higher-than-average yields of soyabean as well – about 35 quintals from his non-irrigated 12 acres and 18 quintals from the irrigated two acres. This entire crop he sold at Rs 3,525 per quintal.

Pohane’s major worry is about the bumper arhar he is set to harvest towards mid-January: “I am afraid that as the new crop floods the market, prices will crash”. Arhar is currently fetching Rs 8,000 per quintal at the Hinganghat mandi. That it may fall to Rs 5,000-5,500 levels at the time of harvest is the common refrain of farmers in Daroda, Ladki, Pohana and Ajangaon villages of Hinganghat tehsil visited by The Indian Express early this week.

Pohane is determined not to offload his whole produce in January, enabling traders to buy at low prices and hoard for making a killing later on: “I will sell only 25 per cent to meet immediate family expenses and dispose of the balance 75 per cent in a staggered manner till August”.

Pohane is a progressive farmer, who is also willing to take the risk of holding on to his crop to realise higher prices in the off-season. Having spend roughly Rs 20,000 per acre on his intercrop of soyabean and arhar, he is likely to strike gold this time, even if the latter’s prices were to come down to Rs 5,000-per-quintal levels.

Others aren’t as well-placed, though. Not very far away, in the same Daroda village, Narayan Shendurkar shows his not-so-good crop that may yield just two quintals per acre; one can count not more than 50 beans in each plant in his three-acre holding. Nor does he have Pohane’s holding power; he has no option but to sell his entire crop immediately after harvesting.

Shendurkar estimates to have spent Rs 5,000 per acre on just arhar, which he intercropped with cotton. At Rs 5,000 per quintal, he can be expected to realise Rs 30,000 from selling six quintals, translating into a net return of Rs 15,000 after deducting cultivation costs.

Both Pohane and Shendurkar are united in saying that the benefits of skyrocketing dal prices in the recent period — among the reasons for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance’s rout in the Bihar Assembly elections — have flown largely to traders.

Arhar is grown in about 5 lakh hectares in Vidarbha. That includes 3.5 lakh hectares in the Amravati division (Amravati, Akola, Buldhana, Washim and Yavatmal districts) and 1.5 lakh hectares in Nagpur division (Wardha, Nagpur, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gondia and Gadchiroli). Roughly 85 per cent of the crop in Vidarbha, which accounts for half of Maharashtra’s arhar area — is rain-fed.

This year, Vidarbha recorded 11 per cent below-normal rainfall in the southwest monsoon season from June to September. The dry spell was, however, largely concentrated in July, impacting the soyabean crop more than arhar. The rains were, on the whole, not bad – and, at any rate, better than in the rest of Maharashtra or even India. The combination of reasonable precipitation and high dal prices has allowed at least farmers like Pohane to dream of achche din in the days ahead.

But will these hopes evaporate in January with the new crop’s arrival? Ashok Goyal, Nagpur’s biggest dal miller, discounts that possibility. The Rs 8,000 per quintal rate for raw arhar at Hinganghat is not an indicative price because the arrivals at present are mainly happening in markets such as Gulbarga and Raichur in Karnataka and Narayanpet in Telangana. “The prices there are ruling at Rs 11,500-12,500 per quintal. I don’t see these going below Rs 10,000 per quintal even after the crop from Vidarbha starts coming to the mandis next month. Rather, they would continue to be on the higher side and the government will have to import pulses well in advance. The farmer is not going to lose out, in any case,” he predicts.

That, of course, isn’t bad news at all for Vidarbha’s farmers — more so for the likes of Pohane, even if somewhat less for Shendurkar and others.

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