Weak monsoon hits kharif sowing

by Janaki Samant

Kharif sowing activities during 2021 recorded a slow start when compared to the progress recorded during 2020. Area under cultivation of kharif crops was lower by 21.6 per cent by 25 June 2021 compared to the area cultivated by the same period a year ago. At 20.3 million hectares, area sown under kharif crops was lower than the 25.9 million hectares cultivated a year ago. However, it remained higher than the area of 16.2 million hectares and 15.5 million hectares cultivated during the same period of 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Area sown under kharif crops as on 25 June 2021 was 18.9 per cent of the area normally sown during the kharif season. Last year, as sowing activities gathered pace much earlier, area sown had reached 24.3 per cent of the normal area. During the 2020 kharif season, sowing of kharif crops had picked up sharply from June driven by availability of migrant labourers and timely onset and good progress of monsoon. This year, though migrant labourers haven’t all returned to their places of work, sowing activities have remained sluggish.

At the beginning of the 2020 kharif sowing season, the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was raging across the country. But the rural areas were largely spared from its onslaught. Its impact remained restricted mostly to urban areas. This year, the second wave did hit the rural areas and it was more severe compared to the first. But it hit during April and May 2021, just before the kharif sowing season commenced. The severity of the wave had eased towards end-May. So, this year, too, the pandemic is not expected to have any adverse impact on kharif sowing activities.

Progress of summer sowing also suggests that the pandemic did not really affect sowing activities. By 23 April 2021, area sown under summer crops had increased by 21.5 per cent to 0.7 million hectares.

Kharif sowing activities are lagging this year compared to last because of the weak progress of southwest monsoon.

Overall rainfall during June was above normal, at 9.6 per cent above the long period average (LPA). June is the first month of the southwest monsoon season that ends in September. Southwest monsoon arrived in Kerala on 3 June, two days after its normal onset date of 1 June. The first three weeks of June recorded high precipitation. Rainfall was 14.4 per cent, 42.9 per cent and 18.9 per cent above the LPA during the first, second and third week of June, respectively.

Rainfall turned deficient from 21 June, as recorded in daily data released by IMD. The last week, ending 30 June, recorded deficient rainfall at 30.2 per cent below the LPA. Sub-divisions such as Punjab, West Rajasthan, East Rajasthan, East Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat region, Saurashtra and Kutch, Madhya Maharashtra, Vidarbha, Chhattisgarh, coastal Karnataka, south interior Karnataka and Kerala received deficient to large deficient rainfall during this week. Exceptions were the subdivisions of West Madhya Pradesh, Marathwada, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rayalaseema and Tamil Nadu. These subdivisions recorded satisfactory precipitation during the last week of June.

With rainfall taking a breather after the rapid surge during the first three weeks of June, sowing of kharif crops hit a speed breaker. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare releases data on progress of kharif sowing from the first week of June. However, this year, there has been a delay in the data release. The first release for data on kharif sowing was as on 25 June. Sowing data as on 2 July is yet to be released. By 25 June, area sown under coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds and cotton was substantially lower than the area covered under these crops as in the same period a year ago. Only rice and sugarcane showed good progress. Area under rice expanded by 4.4 per cent and under sugarcane was up by 0.6 per cent by 25 June.

Area under coarse cereals was lower by 17.5 per cent as on 25 June 2021. Sowing of jowar, bajra, ragi and small millets had yet to pick up. However, area cultivated under maize expanded by 16.6 per cent. This was close to 30 per cent of the normal area.

Area under pulses was down by 16.8 per cent compared to area cultivated last year. This was due to much lesser area cultivated under arhar. Area sown under arhar was lower by 36.9 per cent. Area under green gram (moong) was higher by 1.9 per cent whereas that under black gram (urad) was marginally lower.

Area under major oilseeds was lower by 35.5 per cent by 25 June 2021 when compared to the area sown a year ago. Except for sunflower seeds, area under all other major oilseeds such as soyabean, groundnut, castor, nigerseed, sesamum (til) were lower compared to last year. Area sown under sunflower seeds was up by 44.9 per cent.

Area under cotton was down by almost 50 per cent. Against 7.2 million hectares cultivated under cotton by 26 June 2020, area covered this year was 3.7 million hectares. The progress of sowing of cotton is actually on track. The fall is because sown area had increased very sharply last year.

Area under rice has expanded by 4.4 per cent. But it was only 9.1 per cent of the normal area sown. Among the major rice growing states, Punjab recorded increase in sowing area compared to last year whereas cultivation in other states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Odisha was lower. Punjab recorded nine per cent rise in area sown under rice compared to last year. At 1.6 million hectares, more than 50 per cent of the normal area was covered under rice cultivation in the state by 26 June 2021. However, media reports suggest a different story. As the progress of rainfall had stopped, sowing of rice is reported to have been hit in Punjab due to extreme hot weather and resulting shortage of power. This shortage had affected transplanting of rice as adequate power was not available for operating pumps in the absence of rains. To ease the situation, on 1 July 2021, the chief minister of Punjab ordered curtailing the timing of state government offices and also cutting supply to high energy consumption industries. This was expected to improve power supply to the agriculture sector in the state.

Sugarcane sowing is nearing completion. Area under cane cultivation reached 5 million hectares by 26 June 2021. This was up by 0.6 per cent compared to the area cultivated a year ago. It was 105 per cent of the normal area sown during the kharif season. Except for Tamil Nadu, area under sugarcane in most other states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar increased. Area in Gujarat expanded to 0.23 million hectares this year from 0.15 million hectares last year.

Except on 2 July, rainfall remained largely deficient on all days till 6 July. Monsoon is expected to revive from 8 July, as per the Ministry of Earth Sciences. The IMD has also predicted normal rainfall in July. A revival in southwest monsoon is expected to improve the progress in sowing activities across states.

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