In normal times, the grain mandi of Samrala is abuzz with the hum of agrarian commerce. These days, however, it lies virtually vacant, with only a handful of farmers coming to sell their produce. Joginder Singh Sahni says that usually the mandi is full of wheat and rice farmers selling their goods. Commission agents and other links on the commercial chain add to the decibel level.

Sahni, who has come to the mandi to sell basmati rice, says that the market today is a mere shadow of its usual lively self. “Most of the farmers are not selling their produce. Grains can be stored easily, so they are holding them back, hoping for better price.”

He and a few other farmers from nearby villages, however, have come to sell a part of their produce. According to Sahni, and another farmer Jeet Singh, the price of basmati rice has fallen from ₹4,500 per quintal to about ₹2,200 per quintal following demonetisation.

“The price is falling every day. Just two or three days ago, it was selling at ₹2,500 per quintal,” Sahni says. He is hoping to sell some of the rice, which he is unable to store, before the price drops further.

Punjab’s agriculture now is fairly well-insulated from the vagaries of weather. Instead of depending on monsoon, farmers depend on diesel-powered irrigation and fertilisers; their harvest remains fairly consistent, come rain or drought.

This year, which comes after two straight years of droughts that wreaked havoc, farmers in the State were looking for a reprieve. But then came the “surgical strike” on black money, which ran the cash-based rural economy to ground.

Pest problem

Additionally, some regions in Punjab have seen the output of wheat and rice dip due to a pest attack. “It has been a dual strike – of pests and demonetisation,” says Avtar Singh, an aged farmer from Dhuri.

Reduced output, deep price cuts, and rise in input costs — of fertilisers, pesticides, diesel for irrigation and others — have made life difficult for grain producers in the State.

According to Kirpal Singh from Punnawal village, where the average yield of basmati rice per acre has fallen from around 8 quintals per acre to 5-6 quintals per acre due to the pest problem.

Nishathar Singh, also from Punnawal, says, “I am a relatively big farmer, but even I find it hard to deal with this situation. With lower yield and the cash crunch, I don’t have the money to pay my workers.”