As the sowing of onion for the key rabi season has begun, an assessment by the Centre points to the likelihood of a 25 per cent drop in the 2023–24 production due to inclement weather. Rabi onion makes up 75–80 per cent of the country’s total onion production. Depleting groundwater is likely to reduce the acreage.

A preliminary estimate by the government shows Rabi onion production may drop to 165-lakh tonnes (lt) in the 2023–24 season from 220 lt last season. Rabi onion, which has a share of 75-80 per cent in the country’s annual onion output during the last five years, starts arriving in the market from April, and the crop can be stored up to December.

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Little scope to hike area

“It is estimated that Rabi season’s production in Maharashtra is likely to fall to 37.4 lt this year from about 93 lt last year, whereas in other States, it may remain around the 2022–23 harvesting level,” said an official source. The Centre has been looking to increase the area in some areas of Bihar and West Bengal as there is little scope left in other States, sources said.

Government data show rabi onion acreage is 80,000 hectares till now, which is higher than 60,000 hectares a year ago. As Maharashtra has reduced the acreage target to 1.91 lh from the actual sowing of 5.53 lh a year ago, the Centre too has fixed the 2023–24 rabi onion coverage target at 7.63 lakh hectares (lh) against the actual area of 11.2 lh in 2022–23.

“Now it is too late to plan further about Rabi onion. If the seedlings are not available at the time of opting for onion, it is difficult to motivate farmers. So planning has to be made earlier; otherwise, there is no chance of bringing additional area,” said Arjun Singh Saini, Director-General of Horticulture, Haryana. Many farmers in Haryana opt for short-duration crop such as potato between paddy and wheat, and after harvesting potato, they plant late wheat varieties having lower yields.

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Haryana area up

Saini also said Haryana has added an additional 1,000 acres of area under onion this season from its normal area and about 1,500 acres more in the outgoing kharif season. By establishing a centre of excellence in kharif onion in the Mewat region, Harayana hopes to bring a substantial jump in both area and production, he said.

Haryana’s rabi onion acreage is estimated to have increased to over 16,000 hectares from last year’s 15,200 hectares.

“Unless the government takes to firefighting from now on, bringing some additional area under onion wherever possible, it will be difficult to meet the domestic demand next year. An assured price guarantee to farmers for their crop may help them shift to onion,” said an expert.

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