Twin factors - opening of imports and the choice of better alternatives such as oilseeds and cotton - are likely to weigh on the expansion of pulses acreage this kharif season.

A major factor that could influence farmers to plant pulses such as arhar or tur (pigeon pea), moong (green gram) and urad (black matpea) is that their prices are ruling higher than the minimum support price (MSP) fixed by the Centre.

For the new season starting July, the Centre has fixed the MSP for arhar and urad at ₹6,300 a quintal (₹6,000 last year). For moong, it has been fixed at ₹7,275 (₹7,196). Presently, the prices of tur and urad are hovering above the MSP levels, while moong is trading between ₹6,000 and ₹7,000 per quintal.

On its part, the Centre is trying to increase area under pulses by 4.5 lakh hectares by distributing seed mini-kits to help farmers grow them as inter-crops or even as a sole crop.

As the monsoon, after covering States such as Karnataka and Telangana, enters Maharashtra, sowing of key kharif pulses such as tur, moong and urad has begun.

The Agriculture Ministry has set a higher pulses production target of 9.82 million tonnes (mt) this kharif against 8.46 mt in the previous kharif season.

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Diverse crop pattern

“The sentiment is good and sowing of green gram has begun as we had good pre-monsoon rains in May and June first week,” said Sujay Hubli, a pulses processor based in Gadag district, North Karnataka, where green gram is a major kharif crop. The spread of Covid in the rural areas is unlikely to have any impact and the area is likely to remain the same as last year, he said. Farmers are also seen hedging their bets and are adopting a diversified cropping pattern by taking up sowing of oilseeds and cotton along with pulses, he said.

In Kalaburgi, the major tur producing region in South India, farmers are awaiting more rains to take up planting. “Sowing of tur is yet to begin as we are yet to receive sufficient rains,” said Basavaraj Ingin, President, Karnataka Redgram Growers’ Association.

Planting of green gram and urad has begun in neighbouring districts such as Bidar and Yadgir. “Farmers have faced germination issues in green gram and we have requested the State Government to make available better quality seeds from Rajasthan at the earliest,” he said.

Tur gains

Despite concerns over imports, farmers may still go for the tur, as it is widely grown in this region and prices are ruling higher than last year’s MSP, Ingin said. “We expect the tur acreage to remain at last year’s level of 4.5 lakh hectares (lh) in Kalaburagi district,” he said.

In Maharashtra, where tur is a major crop grown in about eight per cent of 12.36 lh of the total kharif area, farmers are worried about the impact of imports. As tur growers were getting prices above MSP, kharif planting was expected to go up for the first time in the last few years. However, the Centre’s order last month to allow imports of tur, moong and urad dal without any curb on the volume might impact its cultivation this season.

Prices of tur have come down in major markets of Marathwada and Vidarbha, the two major dal producer regions of the State. At one point of time, tur fetched ₹9,000 a quintal in the open market in Marathwada.

“The decision to import dal has brought down prices and it might affect the decision of farmers to go for pulses cultivation. If prices had continued to rise, Maharashtra would have witnessed record sowing of tur,” said farmer PP Pawar. Moong and urad cultivation are grown on some 3 per cent of the total land under kharif cultivation in Maharashtra. No change in the trend is expected this year.

Gujarat may shun pulses

Similarly in Gujarat, uncertainty looms over pulses cultivation as farmers are seen exploring other promising crops including soyabean. Growers feel that Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat may witness increased soyabean cultivation, which will eat into tur, moong and urad area.

In Gujarat, prices of tur and moong are ruling below MSP, prompting farmers in the State to explore alternative crops, mainly soyabean. In agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) yards, moong prices hovered around ₹5,500-6,000 per quintal, whereas urad prices quoted at around ₹6,000 per quintal and tur at ₹5,000 per quintal.

Kharif cultivation is progressing slowly in Gujarat due to the impact of cyclone Tauktae and Covid. Farmers say that pulses cultivation could be hit due to multiple factors, including the lower realisations and climatic conditions.

But, Zhaverchand Bheda, Chairman of India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA), said that pulses sowing won’t be affected much as prices are set to recover. “There was some apprehension that farmers may sow soyabean over pulses. But the sowing of soyabean and pulses won’t coincide. We might see some portion shifting, but there won’t be any major reduction in pulses cultivation,” Bheda said

Telangana has asked its farmers to grow less paddy. As a result, pulses acreage, mainly tur, is expected to gain along with cotton. Tur, grown normally in 7.60 lakh acres during kharif, witnessed a huge growth and registered a record acreage of 11 lakh acres last year.

Further, this is likely to grow by 2-3 lakh acres this year. Officials in Telangana see no major change in moong acreage this year. Similarly in Andhra Pradesh, the area under tur is likely to remain same as that of last year.

Seed kits

On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture plans is distributing 20.27 lakh seed mini-kits of various kharif crops such as tur, moong and urad to farmers.

Under this newly-formulated strategy, high-yielding varieties of seeds will be distributed free of cost to farmers. The seeds can be used either for intercropping or as a solitary crop.

As per the Ministry’s plan, nearly 13.52 lakh mini-kits of tur having a productivity of not less than 15 quintal per hectare will be distributed for inter-cropping. Similarly over 4.73 lakh mini-kits of moong with a productivity of not less 10 quintal per hectare and 93,805 mini seed kits of urad with similar productivity will be given away to be used as inter-crops. Another 1,08,508 mini kits of urad seeds will also be distributed for planting as a single crop.

The Ministry of Agriculture has identified 187 districts in 11 States including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan for intercropping of arhar crop, while moong intercropping will be done in 85 districts in nine States including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Urad intercropping is expected to be carried out in 60 districts in six States.

The idea behind the pulses push is to make India self-sufficient in pulses. Even though India produced 25.56 million tonnes of pulses in 2020-21, as per the third advance estimates, it still imported around 4 lakh tonnes of tur, 3 lakh tonnes of urad and 0.6 lakh tonnes of moong.

With inputs from Radheshyam Jadhav, Pune; Ruta Vora, Ahmedabad; KV Kurmanath, Hyderabad; and TV Jayan, New Delhi)

( This is part of a series of Kharif Outlook reports that have been appearing in these columns since last week. The reports will continue to appear over the next few days.)