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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Monsoon twist

Temporal distribution of rain may be a problem. But government resolve of freeing agricultural markets must not waver.

By: Editorial | September 11, 2020 3:12:31 am
EPFO subscribers may have to brace themselves for an even lower interest rate this year.

The southwest monsoon rainfall has been 6.6 per cent surplus so far, farmers have sown 6.3 per cent more area under kharif crops compared to last year, and retail fertiliser sales during April-August were up 33.6 per cent over the same period of 2019. With the desert locusts, too, not wreaking havoc as was initially feared, a bumper kharif harvest seems in the offing — on top of the excellent rabi crop that helped the farm sector grow by 3.4 per cent during April-June amid the overall economy shrinking 22.8 per cent. But as a story in this newspaper has shown, it isn’t as simple as that. Yes, the monsoon has been good at an aggregate level and also spatially well-distributed, with only three out of the country’s 36 meteorological subdivisions registering deficient rains. The problem, though, has been with the temporal distribution.

This time, the monsoon arrived well in time, leading to aggressive plantings by farmers. The rains were 17.6 per cent above normal in June. However, July not only recorded a 9.7 per cent deficit, the whole of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and mainland Gujarat witnessed a dry spell that extended beyond the first week of August. As a result, the early sown crop experienced significant moisture stress. But then the monsoon revived, so much as to cause flooding and waterlogged fields in the very same areas. The soyabean, urad (black gram), chilli and banana crops in MP have suffered large-scale damage from excess rains through the last week of August. There are similar reports of massive losses to the standing kharif onions in North Karnataka, which normally arrive in the markets from September. All hopes now are on the new crop of Maharashtra, which will start coming in only towards October-end.

In short, while the current kharif season’s production is definitely going to be better than last year’s (which was impacted by the monsoon’s poor first-half performance), how much better remains to be seen. It is quite possible that the benefits of the 26.6 per cent surplus August rains, plus forecasts of a wet winter from a developing La Nina weather event, would be felt more in the coming rabi season. But in the immediate run, one can expect prices of onions and maybe pulses to firm up — aided also by festival season demand and a recovery of sorts underway in global commodity markets. That could test the NDA government’s resolve to stick to its recent reforms of freeing agricultural markets and imposing stockholding limits only in extraordinary situations.

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