Onion production will likely be affected this year as cultivation of the early kharif crop has been affected due to the vagaries of the monsoon in Maharashtra, while the acreage may drop in Gujarat and Karnataka.

Early kharif onion cultivation in Maharashtra, which makes up 33 per cent of the country’s production, has suffered a setback due lack of rains in June and excess rains in the past fortnight. Excess rains have damaged nurseries and farmers are unable to cultivate in inundated fields. 

But any surge in the prices of the bulk could be tempered by the Centre’s move to release 2.50 lakh tonnes between August and September from the buffer stocks. This could help overcome any shortage too.

Onion is harvested in rabi (March to June), kharif (October to December) and late kharif (January to March). In the intervening period (July to October), the market is fed by onions harvested during the rabi season. The rabi onion is stored as it has a longer shelf life. Experts say the quality of rabi onions is not good this year and the stored onion has got damaged.   

Switching over crops

“Many farmers have turned to soyabean and cotton this season due to fluctuating rates of onions. Comparatively soya and cotton farmers received good prices last season and hence more farmers have shunned onion cultivation” said farmer Rajesh Patil.

Bharat Dighole, President, Maharashtra State Onion Growers’ Association told BusinessLine that farmers will not focus on late kharif cultivation too. “We can’t predict anything about the late kharif cultivation in Maharashtra. We have to wait and watch how the monsoon progresses,” he said. 

Decline in Karnataka, Gujarat 

In Karnataka, the area under onion has dropped by at least 20 per cent, while in Gujarat demand for onion seeds has dropped by 30 per cent this year.

The normal acreage under kharif onion in Karnataka is around 1.5 lakh hectares. Factors such as low prices in the previous season coupled with the risk of unseasonal rains during August and September, which have been hurting the output in the past couple of years, could have driven farmers to other lucrative crops this kharif season, traders said. 

“There is some shift in the area from onion to crops such as cotton and moong in the rain-fed areas of North Karnataka, while in the irrigated areas, some farmers have shifted to sugarcane,” said Saleem Bahyatti, an onion trader in Hubballi. He estimates the shift in acreage to be around 20-25 per cent in North Karnataka. 

Sources said in parts of South Karnataka, excess rains in the recent past have impacted the crop in some areas of Chitradurga and Chikkamagalur districts. However, the extent of the crop damage is not known. However, the crop is in good condition in the Hosdurga taluk compared to the other areas, where it was impacted by rains, said Nataraju of Shri Ramalingeshwar FPO. 

According to farmer sources in Gujarat, last year’s lower yield and unattractive prices promoted growers to shift to other crops such as cotton. 

Seed dealers expected robust buying ahead of the sowing season, but according to the market participants, the demand for seeds was lower by about 30 per cent as against last year. 

Rajkot-based farmer and agriculture expert Ramesh Bhoraniya said, “The onion crop has taken a beating this year. The lower seed sale is a reflection of farmers’ lesser preference for onion this year.”

NAFED preparations 

The Centre has procured 2.50 lakh tonnes of onion for the 2022-23 buffer stocks. The onion buffer size during the current year is 0.50 lakh tonnes higher than the 2 lakh tonnes created during 2021-22. 

Onions were procured from the current rabi harvest under the price stabilisation scheme. Stocks were procured by the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) from farmers through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.

Stocks will be released through targeted open market sales and also offered to States, union territories and government agencies for supplies through retail outlets during the lean months (August - December) to moderate price rise. Open market releases will be targeted towards States/cities where prices are increasing over the previous month and also in key mandis to augment the overall availability.

According to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, rabi onion harvested from April - June accounts for 65 per cent of India’s onion production and meets the consumer’s demand till the kharif crop is harvested during October-November. It is, therefore, vital to successfully store onion in order to ensure the regular supply.

However, Dighole said last year’s estimates that huge land was under onion cultivation and hence there is enough onion in the storage are not based on facts. “It is a fact that onion was cultivated in big numbers but because of the heat wave and unseasonal rains huge amount of crop was damaged. The quality of the stored onion is not good. Already many onion  chawls (storages) have reported rotting of onion,” he said.      

(With inputs from Rutam Vora, Ahmedabad, and Vishwanath Kulkarni, Bengaluru)

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