Agri Business

Why sugarcane is sweet and grapes sour for Maharashtra farmers

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on April 07, 2021

Growers favour sugarcane over other crops currently as they fetch 1.18 times return on their investment   -  PTI

Rains have damaged standing crops as well as harvested ones

More growers turn to cane as lockdown curbs have led to continuous losses

About ten years ago, when Dada Jadhav, a farmer in Maharashtra’s Sangli district, decided to shift from sugarcane to grape cultivation on his two-acre land, he was hoping to earn a handsome amount. He invested about ₹6 lakh in the initial phase to raise infrastructure, including drip irrigation. However, the grape never turned sweet for him. Cultivation costs kept rising and in the last few years, erratic weather and unseasonal rainfall affected his crop’s yield regularly. The cost of pesticides and labour almost doubled and Covid-induced lockdowns and restrictions crippled Dada completely.

Last week, he cut down the vineyard and sold the iron wires, cement pillars and other material used for grape cultivation and is once again readying the field for sugarcane. “True, sugarcane is a lazy man’s crop. You sow it and then harvest it without much inputs like fertiliser and pesticides. But this crop will rescue small farmers in the hour of crisis,” says Dada.

“There are many small farmers who have stopped grape cultivation and are turning to sugarcane. Grape cultivation has become expensive. Skilled labourers demand ₹500 per day and pesticide prices are unaffordable. Many tried their hand at raisins but there is no market. Now, the State government is again coming out with restrictions and we are not in a position to bear any losses,” adds Bharat Patil, a farmer from Miraj.

Patil has also axed his grape creepers.

Maharashtra ranks first in terms of grape production, accounting for more than 81 per cent of total production, while in sugarcane cultivation the State stands at No 2.

Glut in raisin production

Farmers in Miraj say they have not even recovered production cost for the last two seasons and last year was disastrous due to lockdowns, which pulled down the demand in the market.

Those who turned to raisins faced more losses as raisins worth ₹900 crore were stuck in cold storages in Sangli, one of the prominent grape-producing districts in Maharashtra.

Raisin production in the State doubled last year as farmers, who were unable to take their grapes to market due to lockdown, turned to raisin production. The estimated raisin production in Maharashtra has gone up to about 2.5 lakh tonnes (lt) from the average annual production of 1.80 lt.

More cane in the offing

“It seems that this season again will be stuck in Covid-19. Small grape cultivators are now completely broken. They cannot afford any losses and hence there will be many who would turn to sugarcane cultivation. This is going to result in another record sugarcane season,” said agriculture researcher Sominath Gholwe.

With a glut of sugarcane, farmers in South Maharashtra have been sending cane for crushing to Karnataka for the last few years. Even this year many farmers from Sangli and Kolhapur districts were dependent on Karnataka mills to crush their cane.

“No sugarcane is left uncrushed and that’s why farmers are attracted towards this crop which guarantees a return. FRP is fixed and sugar farmers in Maharashtra have a strong organisation which ensure timely payment of FRP,” said Hemant Pawar from Satara.

Why sugarcane

Growers favour sugarcane over other crops currently as they fetch 1.18 times return on their investment. In case of ratoon crop, which is actually cutting the stem and leaving the root part intact, the growers fetch a return of 2.8 times their investment.

The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices has said that the average net return for sugarcane growers is 10 times the realisation of cotton and gram (chana) put together. Sugar mills in Maharashtra have crushed about 961 lt of sugarcane this season, which is the highest ever in the history of the State and the sugar season still continues. According to the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), Maharashtra’s net cane area has gone up by about 48 per cent in 2020-21 sugar season.

Published on April 07, 2021

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