The Indian Government, traders, and farmers are worried that current weather trends may affect the standing wheat crop despite the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare estimating a record high crop of 112.18 million tonnes (mt) this year. 

India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast above-normal minimum and maximum temperatures in wheat-growing regions of north-west, central parts, and Maharashtra over the next five days.

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Shift in low-pressure area

Earlier this month, IMD said minimum temperatures are likely to be above normal in the north-east and adjoining east India, northern parts of the west coast, and some parts of northwest India. It also predicted above-normal maximum temperatures in these regions this month.

A trade analyst tracking weather in the wheat-growing regions said the low-pressure area that had brought rains a few weeks ago in these places got shifted to Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. This allowed dry and warm air from the west to move into these growing areas, raising the temperature. 

“There may not be any concerns now since the night temperature is below 15 degrees Celsius. But problems will crop up if that happens,” said the analyst. 

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Deficient rainfall

A week ago, Gyanendra Singh, Director of Karnal-based Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR), said there is no cause for concern for wheat now as the temperature in most parts of the country has not exceeded the threshold level. 

The other concern over the wheat crop is a 30 per cent deficient rainfall since January 1. AVM GP Sharma, President (Meteorology and Climate Change), Skymet Weather, wrote on Linkedin that North India has remained generally rain deficient from December.

“The first half of February has witnessed dry weather conditions over most parts of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh,” he said. 

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Arrivals begin

Deficient or lack of rain has reduced atmospheric moisture levels and built up heat stress. With chances of rains unlikely over these parts over the next two weeks, the weather development could be detrimental to the wheat crop, he said.  

“Wheat has begun arriving in small lots in Madhya Pradesh. Some of us have not harvested the crop. But if the weather remains a little hot like this, our crop could shrivel like last year,” said Sunil Mukhati, a farmer from Dewas district. 

Data from the Agmarknet website, a unit of the Agriculture Ministry, show wheat arrivals this month at various agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) yards are 3.58 lakh tonnes (lt) compared with 3.17 lt a year ago.

Arrivals in Uttar Pradesh are higher this year at 2.35 lt (1.30 lt last year), while they are lower in Madhya Pradesh at 79,465 tonnes (1.33 lt), Gujarat at 12,284 tonnes (16,928 tonnes), and Rajasthan at 12,554 tonnes (14,470 tonnes).

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Different views

However, prices have begun to drop. In Madhya Pradesh, prices at APMC yards have dropped to ₹2,293 a quintal this week from ₹2,433.50 last week and in Uttar Pradesh, they are down at ₹2,587 against ₹2,651 a week ago.

The problem with heat stress is that it could affect the wheat yield, particularly when the crop is at the filling stage. However, trade views are divided over the weather developments.

Pointing out to last year’s heatwave impact on the wheat crop, a New Delhi-based trader said, “What happened last year was an event that happens once in 10 years. It is unlikely to repeat this year.”

Other traders are of the view that even if heat stress were to affect wheat, it may not be uniform across the country since this time, the sowing of wheat has witnessed a different pattern. 

Sowing pattern

“There are two issues with the whole issue. One, only if there is a continuous rise in the temperature, say for two weeks, will there be a cause for worry. The other issue is even within States say Rajasthan, the impact of the weather will differ from north and south,” a trader said.

According to traders, farmers in north Rajasthan planted wheat later than those in the south. Similarly, wheat in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Madhya Pradesh may not be affected as also in Gujarat.

“However, the crop in Punjab and Haryana could be affected since sowing in those States was late,” said the trade analyst.

The Centre will be keen on good production even if it is not a record high. This is because it will look forward to procuring as much as possible and have ample stocks with it for welfare schemes, particularly in the year leading to Parliament elections.

FCI procurement

Last year, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) was able to procure only 18.79 mt against 43.44 mt in 2021. “The Centre will try and procure at least 33-34 mt,” said the Delhi-based trader. 

Projections of a record-high wheat crop this year are against 107.74 mt last year. In its second advance estimate last year, the Centre pegged wheat output at a record high of 111 mt before pruning it to 106.84 mt later.

This year, the area under wheat has increased to 34.32 million hectares against 34.18 million hectares last year. The rise in acreage is also expected to help a higher production.

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