Kharif sowing could be in for a tough time this year, on two counts. One, the storage position in major reservoirs across the country is lower than it was last year. Two, the country has been going through a prolonged dry spell since October.
“No need to press the panic button, yet. But the Agriculture Ministry has to be on guard,” said Dr Ashok Gulati, Chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices.
According to the Central Water Commission, the live storage in the 82 important reservoirs as on March 22 is 53.726 billion cubic metres. This is 35 per cent of the storage capacity at full reservoir level, and 16 per cent less than it was this time last year. However, vis-à-vis the last ten years' average, it is 19 per cent higher. The Central Water Commission said the storage position in 62 reservoirs is around 80 per cent of the normal storage level. According to the India Meteorological Department, rainfall was 57 per cent deficient during March 1-21. While post-monsoon rainfall between October and December was 48 per cent below normal, January-March rainfall was just 5 per cent lower than normal. More important, since January about 25 meteorological sub-divisions have had deficient rainfall.
This is an area of concern, as it could affect soil moisture that is key for kharif sowing. Already, meteorologists in Europe and Japan have predicted bleak prospects for the monsoon this year.
“Even if the monsoon were to fail, there is no cause for concern since we have ample foodgrain stocks in reserve,” said Dr Gulati.
Most farmers may hesitate to begin sowing in view of the poor soil moisture. “The percentage of rainfall may see a wide difference from area to area. But the absolute amount of rainfall is low,” said the CACP Chairman.
According to agriculture experts, the Meteorological Department should come out with its prediction immediately. The Department usually comes out with its monsoon projections in April.
“I think people in the Agriculture Department will be tracking the development on a weekly basis,” said Dr Gulati.
Kharif contributes 50 per cent of the total food production annually and 65 per cent of the oilseeds output. Any monsoon failure, therefore, can lead to inflation, besides affecting the rural economy. Rice is a key kharif crop among foodgrains with over 70 per cent of the total output produced during the period. Among oilseeds, soyabean is the major crop, followed by groundnut.