Agri Business

What’s behind the increased acreage under kharif cultivation

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on June 29, 2020 Published on June 29, 2020

The reverse migration following the virus outbreak, satisfactory reservoir position and the easy labour availability in rural India have accelerated sowing.   -  THE HINDU

Timely onset of monsoon, labour availability boost planting, but these are early days yet

The latest ‘All India Crop Situation’ report of the Agriculture Ministry shows a massive increase in planted acreage for various kharif season crops as of June 26, compared with the same time last year; but it may not be time to celebrate yet.

Crops such as cotton, oilseeds, maize and pulses have shown a remarkable increase in planted area for this time of the year, as can be seen from the adjoining data. If one went by the previous three years’ planting data, the current year’s numbers appear exceptional and, in some sense, too good to be true.

To be sure, we have had a combination of fortuitous circumstances, including the India Meteorological Department’s forecast of a normal south-west monsoon, timely onset of monsoon over Kerala and its rapid progress so as to cover the whole country two weeks ahead of normal time.

 

Additionally, the reservoir position has been satisfactory. It is possible, due to reverse migration following the national lockdown announced on March 25, that labour availability in rural India is comfortable, which has accelerated sowing. Cyclones Amphan in the east coast followed by Nisarga in the west coast, too, contributed to soil moisture.

It would be heartening if data compilation and reporting by the Agriculture Ministry has now become more efficient and timely than in the past; but one does not know. By the second half of July, we would get a reasonably good picture of the aggregate area under cultivation for each of the crops.

 

While a sense of satisfaction over the progress in planted acreage would be in order, there is no need to be euphoric. These are early days.

Seed availability

By the Agriculture Ministry’s own admission, the availability of soyabean seeds is tight, and so the germination standards have been relaxed to increase soy seed availability. This has spawned a new problem. According to reports, planting of spurious or outdated seeds has been rampant. This is dangerous as growers are unlikely to witness good yields which even otherwise are rather low (around 1,000 kg a hectare).

The tightness in soyabean seeds’ availability did not happen overnight. The Ministry of Agriculture and various research agencies ought to have identified the problem months ago and taken steps to augment seed availability including, if needed, through import. The government must come clean on why and how this was overlooked.

According to the Directorate of Oilseed Development, in Madhya Pradesh, already 40 lakh hectares have been planted to soybean, which is 70 per cent of the State’s normal area of 56 lakh hectares. Despite impressive initial acreage, there is no guarantee soyabean yields this season would even match the normal times.

While some crops like soyabean run the risk of lower production, in some others like cotton, the country could face a glut. The production target for cotton is 360 lakh bales (170 kg each) this season. Stocks with public agencies are about 125-130 lakh bales. So, come October, the country will carry nearly 480-490 lakh bales of cotton with domestic consumption of just about 300 lakh bales and export prospects looking not bright at all.

There is also the big risk of prices collapsing. Already prices of maize, cotton and pulses are ruling below the minimum support price. Kharif 2020 harvest can potentially create problems for growers and policymakers.

(The writer is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal)

Published on June 29, 2020
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