Unseasonal rain could dash bumper rabi harvest hope


By Sampad Nandy and Kaushal Verma

NEW DELHI – Rains are likely to wreak havoc on crop output for the second time this crop year.

Heavy rains, accompanied with gusty winds and hailstorms, over the last few days have damaged all the key rabi crops--wheat, mustard, chana and vegetables--that were nearing harvest in north-western and central India.


Since Mar 1, rains have been 776% above normal in Uttar Pradesh, 701% above normal in Haryana, 446% above normal in Punjab, 456% above normal in Rajasthan and 300% above normal in Madhya Pradesh.

This unusual weather has led to crop lodging and grain dropping, raising concern about a low food grain output, and a spike in food prices in the coming months.

The government has pegged the rabi food grain output in 2019-20 (Jul-Jun) at a record high of 149.6 mln tn, with wheat production seen at a new high of 106.2 mln tn and chana crop at 11.2 mln tn.

Output estimates of both these crops are now under a cloud, as the recent rains are seen taking a toll on yield as well as quality.

"In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan the crops had reached harvesting stage and pod filling stage. Hailstorms at this stage may have damaged wheat, mustard and potato mostly in northwest India," Deputy Director General of India Meteorological Department for Agrimet division Anand Kumar Sharma said.

In wheat, about 7-8% of the standing crop in Punjab and Haryana was flattened due to rains and hail, All India Roller Flour Mills Federation Secretary Veena Sharma said.

Even if part of the flattened crop recovers after rains clear up, there could be lustre loss and blacking in the lodged grain, Sharma said.

"Rains and hails caused less damage in chana than other grains," All India Dal Mill Association President Suresh Agrawal said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the top chana producing state, damage is reported in Bhopal, Sagar, Narsinghpur, Raisen and Balaghat districts while in Rajasthan, the second largest grower, Bundi, Churu, and Bikaner districts are worst-hit regions, Agrawal said.

Around 10% of mustard yield is likely hit in key growing parts of Rajasthan, the leading producer of the oilseed, and Madhya Pradesh, Jaipur-based trader Babulal Gupta said. Both the states have reported rainfall in past two weeks. 

In some places, the grains from the mustard pods have split owing to rains and hailstorm, farm scientists said.

This untimely shower and hailstorm may also delay harvest of rabi crops in the affected areas by about a fortnight.

This would also delay arrivals. Farmers would prefer to dry out the crops before getting them to the markets, as grains with higher moisture content fetch lower prices.

Horticulture crops, too, have borne the brunt of the unseasonal showers. While heavy rains led to concern about rotting in the sown potato crop, in fruit crops, particularly mango, they have led to flower dropping, which would result in lower fruit yield, farm scientists said.

The worst may not be over yet as India Meteorological Department has forecast heavy rainfall over northeastern states, Gangetic West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, and parts of Andhra Pradesh during the next three to four days.

It has also warned of rainfall over Chhattisgarh, east Madhya Pradesh, and Vidarbha in Maharashtra towards the end of the week.

In the kharif season, too, heavy rains just before harvest led to extensive damage to the standing crops. Lower output of rice, pulses and vegetables, particularly onion, had led to a sharp spike in food inflation in Oct-Dec.

A fall in rabi output, particularly fruits and vegetables could see a return of high food inflation in Apr-Jun, upsetting the common man's "thalinomics".  End

Edited by Akul Nishant Akhoury

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