Rain-deprived northern states could affect kharif crop

by Mahesh Vyas

Sowing of the kharif crop was patchy till end of the first week of July. Overall sowing was 14.2 per cent lower than it was during the same period last year. Foodgrain sowing was down 15.4 per cent, pulses sowing was down 19.4 per cent, oilseeds down by 13.4 per cent and cotton was down 24 per cent. Sugarcane sowing was up by 1.6 per cent.

While sowing did pick up in the first week of July, the gains are substantive only in a few crops and more importantly, the rainfall situation seems to be getting a bit worrisome in the north.

As farmers stepped up sowing in some parts during the first week of July 2018 the gap between sowing achieved last year and this year that was as wide as 21.6 per cent till the end of June, narrowed down to 14.2 per cent.

The smartest gain was in the case of soyabean sowing. Till the end of June 2018, soyabean was sown over just 0.86 million hectares. In just one week, ie by the end of July 6, its sowing had spread to 5.2 million hectares. Although this is still lower than last year’s 5.4 million hectare sown by the same time last year, it is an impressive gain during a week. Sowing in Madhya Pradesh shot up from 0.21 million hectares to 2.76 million hectares. In Maharashtra it went up from 0.32 million hectares to 1.6 million hectares. Rajasthan and Karnataka also saw some big increases in soyabean sowing although these states are not big producers of the oilseed.

The sharp increase in soyabean sowing was unlikely to be the result of the MSP announcement by the government. Soyabean MSP is close to the oilseed’s market price and so it could not have influenced sowing.

Acreage on groundnut also went up during the week ended 6 July but, cumulatively it was 43 per cent lower than the acreage during the same period last year. Groundnut sowing in Gujarat was severely affected by the lack of rains. Rains were 22 per cent below normal in Gujarat and 76 per cent below normal in Saurashtra and Kutch. The crop has also seen a rather modest 9.9 per cent increase in its MSP. As a result, in spite of the smart pick-up in soyabean sowing, overall oilseeds sowing was 13.4 per cent lower than it was year ago.

There was perceptible improvement in the acreage under pulses during the first week of July. It went up from 1.1 million hectares to 3.4 million hectares during this one week. Yet, it was 19.4 per cent lower than its level a year ago. Area under arhar and urad are still 20 per cent and 18.5 per cent lower than their corresponding levels a year ago.

MSPs for arhar and urad are more than 50 per cent higher than the market price in June. These could spur higher sowing. However, concerns regarding the government’s ability to procure are a serious dampener.

Bajra is expected to see the biggest impact of the MSP announcements. It was given the greatest increase in prices. Between June 27 and July 6, area under bajra increased from 0.4 million hectares to 1.3 million hectares. Acreage in Rajasthan (the largest producer) spurted from 0.3 million hectares to 1 million hectares in the week. It is still only a fifth of the normal sowing and is also 31.4 per cent lower than the sowing during the similar period of the previous year.

As of the first week of July 2018, sowing of cereals was 14.3 per cent lower than it was a year ago. The progress of sowing is generally low in the northern states.

Northern states, particularly in the gangetic belt, have received very poor rains. Till July 6, eastern Uttar Pradesh received rains that were 42 per cent below normal. Western Uttar Pradesh received 32 per cent deficient rains. In the east, Jharkhand and Bihar received rains that were 30 per cent and 18 per cent below normal, respectively. Gangetic West Bengal was down 22 per cent. Central India - Odisha, eastern Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh received rains that were 30 per cent, 22 per cent and 21 per cent below normal.

This substantially inadequate precipitation does not augur well for the kharif crop.

These states account for well over half of the total kharif rice production. Their share in coarse cereals and pulses is smaller at about 16 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. The region does not contribute much to oilseeds or cotton. But, Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for about 45 per cent of sugarcane production.

Both, rice and sugarcane are water-intensive crops.

Sugarcane sowing has been good so far. Rains could impact its yield, though. Kharif rice sowing has been very slow this year. As of July 6, kharif sowing this year was 15 per cent lower than it was a year ago. Rains have made no progress into the northern region till July 10 and it is likely that the sowing will have remained stalled in the region till middle of July. This is likely to affect overall kharif rice production in 2018.

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