A new yellow revolution has finally taken off, as farmers expand the area under the crop by a quarter, conjuring up visions of endless mustard fields — a popular Bollywood staple. 

The development comes even as the country is still dependent on edible oil imports. The “right” price for mustard this year has worked the wonders that several initiatives in the past could not do.

According to the latest sowing data, acreage under mustard (including toria and taramira) has expanded by 24 per cent to a record 90.45 lakh hectares (lh), exceeding even the government-set target. 

Even average yield will help

The area under mustard alone has touched 84.76 lh (up 24.9 per cent). Before the start of the 2021-22 rabi season sowing, the government targeted increasing the output to 122.4 lakh tonnes (lt) from 75.8 lh. The production was 101.12 lt in 2020-21.

“Even if the average yield is 1.5 tonnes per hectare, production will be 135 lt from the latest sowing areas. However, the next 10-15 days are crucial for the crop amid prediction of rainfall by the weather bureau,” said PK Rai, director of Bharatpur-based Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research. The yield was 1.51 tonnes per ha in 2018-19 and fell to 1.36 tonnes per ha the following year, he said.

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Minimum temperatures at night may stay near-normal or slightly above normal in most parts of north-west and central India (including Madhya Pradesh) during January 20-26, according to India Meteorological Department. Though no significant cold wave is seen, dense fog is likely over many parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The weather bureau has forecast light or moderate isolated to scattered rainfall over plains of north-west and adjoining central India, mainly during January 20-22. Overall, precipitation is likely to be normal to above-normal over north-west India, it said.

Output seen at 110 lakh tonnes

Industry body Central Organisation for Oil Industry and Trade (COOIT) estimates mustard output at around 110 lt this year. “The government has been trying to encourage mustard cultivation and the results have started showing. This bodes well for the industry and consumers alike, as prices of mustard oil may remain stable over the next few months,” said Suresh Nagpal, chairman of COOIT.

In many states, mustard is currently either in the flowering or pod formation stage, and the persisting cloudy weather is not good, experts say, advising States to guard against “white rust” pests. Though there are varieties resistant to white rust, farmers prefer high-yielding varieties, Rai said, adding that Giriraj and RH 725 remain popular in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The Centre had released 1.2 lakh hybrid and 5.98 lakh high-yielding seed mini-kits for distribution among farmers during this rabi season.

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It will be a challenge for agriculture scientists and State governments to increase yield since the target area of 90 lh for 2025-26 has been achieved this year, while the production target of 170 lt was unlikely to be met. Rai said there are varieties with 2.6-2.8 tonnes per ha yield, which can be popularised among farmers.

Mustard area in Rajasthan, the biggest producer, enjoying 39 per cent share in area and 46 per cent in output, has increased 36.7 per cent to 33.87 lh and that of taramira ( Eruca sativa) by 60 per cent to 1.4 lh. 

Soya farmers hold back

“Except in areas (some pockets in Jhalawar and Bharatpur districts) that faced recent hailstorm, the mustard crop is normal and rains will definitely help the growth. Unless there are some unforeseen events like heavy rains or hailstorms in future, we are expecting a bumper crop,” said Om Prakash, director (agriculture), Rajasthan government.

Many farmers in Haryana and other wheat-growing states have shifted to mustard this year, said BV Mehta, Executive Director of Solvent Extractors’ Association (SEA) of India. One reason for this is the high price during sowing, Mehta said.

mustard acreage

mustard acreage

Stating that soyabean farmers were holding back the crop in expectation of better prices, as they had seen high prices in the last season, Mehta said: “If mustard farmers follow them, it will be a problem for the country as there will be an increase in mustard oil import.” India had imported 52,000 tonnes of rapeseed oil in the 2020-21 oil year (November-October), down from 55,000 tonnes a year ago.

With the government allowing import of crude and refined edible oils at a lower duty until March 31, caution is necessary to ensure mustard farmers do not end up losing soon after harvest, said BK Singh, founder of Fasal Salah app. 

The Centre must tread cautiously with its import policies, he said. “If mustard farmers rush to the mandis with the crop, there is a likelihood of prices crashing. That should be avoided,” Singh said.

USDA oilseeds projections

Sudhakar Rao Desai, President of the Indian Vegetable oil Producers’ Association (IVPA), said good monsoon and prices above minimum support price (MSP) helped bring more area under mustard. The profitability of mustard has been higher compared to wheat and rice, Desai said.

KV Singh, Vice President, Origo e-Mandi, said mustard production is likely to increase to a record 100-110 lt this season. “The rise in oilseed acreage this season is mainly due to record high prices amid a shortage in global markets,” he said. 

The shift to mustard from wheat will not affect the latter’s production, he said. 

The US Department of Agriculture has revised upwards India’s oilseed production to 40.88 million tonnes (mt) for the current season, against 38.32 mt in the previous year. The initial estimate for this season was 40.47 mt. Stating that higher production will result in higher crushing of 32.92 mt, compared with 31.58 mt a year ago, USDA said edible oil imports are estimated higher at 14.73 mt.

(With inputs from AJ Vinayak, Mangaluru; KV Kurmanath, Hyderabad; Vinson Kurian, Thiruvananthapuram; Radheshyam Jadhav, Pune; and Subramani Ra Mancombu, Chennai)

This is the second report in a five-part series on rabi crops outlook.