Farm distress: Why the potato isn’t hot in Bengal this season

| Updated on: Jan 08, 2018

Kolkata, Date: 20/03/2015.
Quite a good number of Potato sacks are lying here and there at the periphery of a cold storage at Dhaniakhali in district Hooghly when respective potato cultivators are in distress to sale it off.
Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty

Rise in 2016-17 output has led to a price crash

Unremunerative prices for the potato crop in 2016-17 have compelled farmers in West Bengal to reduce cultivation of the tuber this season.

Sahu Sufi Mondal, a farmer in Abhirampur village, Hooghly district, has sown potato only on 17 of his 22 bighas of land this season. Close to 80-82 bags (of 50 kg each) of potatoes can be grown on a bigha (0.401 acre) of land.

“Last year, I incurred a huge loss on the produce. I spent close to ₹20,000 on cultivating (potatoes on) one bigha of land. I got only ₹10,000-11,000,” Mondal told BusinessLine .

Potato cultivation in Bengal is spread across nearly 4.6 lakh hectares. Hooghly, Burdwan, Bankura and Medinipur are some of the key potato-growing districts.

According to Patit Paban De, President, West Bengal Cold Storage Association, the area under cultivation is likely to be 5 per cent lower (or around 4.4 lakh hectares) this season.

In 2016-17, West Bengal reported a 22 per cent rise in the production of potato — at 110 lakh tonnes — which triggered a slide in prices. At the time of harvesting, prices were as low as ₹110-120 for a packet of 50 kg, or around ₹2.4 a kg.

“Farmers did not get a good price for their crop throughout last year; some of them had taken loans and were unable to repay. This has discouraged many farmers to sow potato this year,” said De.

He, however, refused to comment on the production estimate for this season.

The delayed harvest of kharif paddy due to post-monsoon showers also led to a delay in the sowing of potato. This could have an impact on the productivity of the crop this season, farmers said. Sowing of potato usually begins by October-end and goes on till early December. The new crop begins to arrive in the market by early January. However, this year, the new crop is likely to hit the market after January 15, sources said.

Old stock

Cold storages are still holding on to stock from the previous year. According to De, close to 5 lakh tonnes of potato is still lying in cold storages across West Bengal.

The State government has extended its transport subsidy to January 15 to help farmers clear their stock from cold storages. The government offers a subsidy of ₹50 and ₹100 a quintal for the inter-State transport of potato by road and rail, respectively.

Last season, nearly 70 lakh tonnes of potatoes (of the total production of 110 lakh tones) found their way to over 400 cold storages across the State.

Published on January 08, 2018
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