Dry winter delays sowing of rabi crops

An unusually dry winter in the northern parts, leaving little moisture in the soil, plus a delay in harvesting of paddy grown in the preceding season, has delayed sowing of rabi crops.

This could impact the final output, unless there is a strong pick-up in the coming weeks. A drop in rabi production, coupled with below-par kharif output, might aggravate the distress in rural areas.

Rabi sowing usually starts in late September and early October. The crop is harvested from January onwards.

Till Friday, rabi crops had been sown on 12.32 million hectares, almost 23 per cent less than in the same period last year. The area covered so far under rabi is 6.52 mn ha less than the normal during this time.

The highest shortfall has been in wheat and mustard, the two main rabi crops. Union agriculture ministry data show wheat had been sown on 1.86 mn ha till Friday, 56.5 per cent less than in the same period last year, when 4.28 mn had been covered. Usually by the middle of November, wheat is planted on 5.6 mn ha.

Scientists said to get a good wheat harvest, almost 60-70 per cent of the sowing should be completed by middle of November because per hectare yields start dropping in crops planted after November 20.

Mustard was planted on 2.45 mn ha, almost 50 per cent less than the area covered at the same time last year.

In rainfed areas, mustard sowing has been impacted due to low residual moisture in the soil because of near-absence of pre-winter rain. In irrigated areas, wheat sowing has been less than last year as fields have not been cleared of paddy from the previous season.

India Meteorological Department's data showed the country got almost 35 per cent less rain between October 1 and this Wednesday. The dry weather in north India has also pulled down water levels in major reservoirs, vital for irrigation. In 91 major reservoirs, combined storage was 85.53 billion cubic metres or 76 per cent of the storage at this time last year and 74 per cent of the average storage of the past 10 years.

Experts said every day's delay in wheat sowing beyond November 15-20 would lead to loss in per-hectare yield.

“No rain in late September and October has deprived the soil of any residual moisture in the rainfed areas, which has impacted oilseeds' sowing. In irrigated areas, wheat sowing has been delayed due to late harvesting of paddy,” P K Joshi, director for South Asia at the International Food Policy Research Institute, told Business Standard.

He said further delay in sowing of wheat might have an impact on the yield, as temperatures might suddenly increase.

The good news has come from pulses, where rabi sowing, mostly of chana (chickpea), has been more than last year till now. Also indicating that farmers might have been reacting to the price signals from the market and the government. Till Friday, pulses had been sown on 3.89 mn ha, up from 3.44 mn ha at the same period last year.

Chana had been planted on 2.44 m ha, almost 43 per cent more than the area covered during the same period last year.

Earlier, this month, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) raised the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for masoor (red lentils) and gram, the two most grown pulses during the rabi season, by Rs 250 a quintal. A bonus of Rs 75 a qtl has also been recommended by the CCEA over and above the MSP. The retail price of pulses have been much more than last year.

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