Agri Business

New sowing trends emerge as wheat farmers switch to other crops

BL Chennai Bureau | | Updated on: Jan 17, 2022
image caption

Besides mustard, growers are shifting to crops such as onion and garlic 

Logos and pics | Photo Credit: BL slugs

The latest sowing data on wheat show a drop in the coverage of the main rabi season crop. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, the area under wheat this year is lower at 31.70 million hectares (mh) against 33.65 mh during the same period last year. 

Among the 16-plus States that grow wheat, the area has increased in Assam, Bihar and Chhattisgarh only, while showing a drop in other States. The major drop in the area is being witnessed in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. 

It is almost the same in Himachal, while the coverage is a tad lower in Punjab, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and West Bengal. This is just one side of the story on the sowing of wheat during this season. Probably, Madhya Pradesh is showing the way apart from Rajasthan, where farmers have switched over to mustard from wheat this year. 

Positive shift

“In Madhya Pradesh, a positive shift is taking place with growers switching over to other crops from wheat. While farmers in areas where the availability of water is a problem have sown mustard, in regions such as Ujjain and Dewas farmers are shifting to crops such as onion and garlic,” said Anand Singha Anjana in the State’s Ujjain district.

“In some areas bordering forest areas like Dewas, farmers have shifted to chickpea ( chana) from wheat. In other areas, farmers are growing onion and garlic,” said Sunil Mukhati, a farmer from Rabdi village in the Dewas district. 

“In parts of western Uttar Pradesh, we hear farmers have shifted to potato from wheat and they will likely grow onion next there,” said Jaikishore Singh, a farmer in the State’s Chandauli district.

Youth to the fore

Anjana says the new trend is because young farmers are now taking lands on lease to cultivate crops, particularly to make profits. “Also, farmers tend to get more by growing onion and garlic,” he said.

The per acre yield of wheat is nine quintals, whereas in the case of onion the yield is 25-30 quintals and in garlic, it is 80-100 quintals. “We have to depend on the government to sell our wheat and it is bought at the minimum support price (MSP). That is not the case with onion or garlic, though the latter’s prices are ruling low now,” the Ujjain farmer said.

Uttar Pradesh’s Singh said farmers have now begun to look beyond merely depending on the government’s support for procurement under the MSP programme. This year, the Centre has increased the MSP for wheat to ₹2,015 a quintal from ₹1,975.

Increasing mechanisation

“Farmers still have to follow the old farming system to grow wheat. But to either cultivate wheat or onion or garlic, farmers can now use machines for sowing. They don’t face problems even for spraying pesticide for these crops,” he said, pointing out how mechanisation is catching up and changing the face of farming. 

In Bihar, on the other hand, there has been a shift to wheat from crops such as maize. “Farmers in Bihar have shifted to wheat from maize as rains delayed the sowing of the coarse cereal this year,” said Suresh Singh Chauhan, General Manager, AMDD Foods Pvt Ltd. 

wheat table | Photo Credit: achuth

In Karnataka, among the major rabi cereal crops, wheat comes at a distant second after jowar and is grown largely in the northern parts of the state. As per the reports, the sowing of wheat is almost over. Sources said the marginal decline in Karnataka’s area is on account of some farmers shifting to oilseeds such as safflower and sunflower, besides maize. 

Favourable weather

In Maharashtra, unseasonal rains are likely to have a major impact on wheat production, according to farmers. Wheat tracts in Nashik, Dhule, and Nandurbar in north Maharashtra have been affected due to rains, which continued till last week.

“So far, the weather has been favourable for wheat and any marginal drop in acreage is not going to have any impact,” said DV Malhan, adviser, Roller Flour Millers Federation of India. 

Almost all stakeholders are unanimous in their view that the weather is conducive for the wheat crop this year and yield could perhaps make up for the drop in the area. 

Uttar Pradesh’s Singh said growing areas in his region received two spells of rains last month of which the second one was good. “These rains are very good for the crop and they are shaping up well,” he said. 

Karnataka has received 88 per cent more rainfall during October 1-December 31 with North Interior Karnataka, where wheat is grown largely, receiving 17 per cent excess rainfall.

Exports buoy prices

Wheat prices have also been ruling near MSP this season and it has swayed farmers in States such as Bihar. This fiscal, India has emerged as a major wheat exporter in the Asia-Pacific region resulting in open market prices rising. 

Rates are ruling above ₹1,900 a quintal compared with about ₹1,700 during the same period a year ago. The US Department of Agriculture estimates India to export a record 6.5 mt of wheat this fiscal in view of its competitiveness. 

According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, India exported 3.2 million tonnes (mt) of wheat during the April-October period of the current fiscal compared with 0.61 mt during the year-ago period. 

Despite the shift seen in some States, particularly in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, wheat production is expected to be above 100 mt this year too.

No reports of pest attack

Last season, wheat production was estimated at a record 109.24 mt against 107.86 mt the previous season. “This year, too, there are chances of a 100 mt-plus wheat crop. We have to see how the weather unfolds since any adverse change in weather can impact the crop,” said MK Dattaraj, Managing Director, Krishna Flour Mills.

“It is too early to comment on the crop expectations,” said Pramod Kumar S, Senior Vice-President, Roller Flour Millers Federation of India. “The sowing is almost the same or marginally lower than last year. Soil moisture has been good, rains have been good, so far” he said.

A scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research said though current conditions (cloudy and humid) are suitable for yellow rust, there has been no report of any pest attack from anywhere. 

“Even the Yamunanagar district of Haryana, which is normally the first to report in past years, has no such case. Due to the adoption of new varieties by farmers, the pest attack has been contained and every year cases are reducing. Most of the new varieties are yellow rust resistance,” he said. Kumar said climatic conditions during February-April will hold the key for a good crop.

Stocks to dip?

Roller Flour Mills Federation’s Malhan said procurement of wheat will increase in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as seen in the last couple of years as the Centre wants Haryana and Punjab farmers to diversify to alternative crops. 

“There will not be any concern on procurement even if production falls marginally. The government will also be happy if farmers shift from wheat to oilseeds since the Central Pool has surplus wheat,” he said.

Currently, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has 33.01 mt of wheat against the mandatory 10.08 mt of operational stock and three mt of strategic reserve it has to hold as of January 1. 

The USDA has projected that the FCI will have only 22 mt wheat stocks as of April 1, 2022, as the Centre has extended the distribution of foodgrains for poor families free of cost. On April 1 last year, FCI had a record 27.30 mt of wheat in its warehouses. 

(With inputs from Prabhudatta Mishra, New Delhi; Vishwanath Kulkarni, Bengaluru; Radheshyam Jadav, Pune; and Subramani Ra Mancombu, Chennai)

This is the first report of a five-part series on rabi crops outlook.

Published on January 17, 2022

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