Kharif Outlook: Pre-monsoon showers to have mixed impact on plantation crops

Vishwanath Kulkarni Bengaluru | Updated on June 17, 2021

Widespread rains in south to help plants growth, drought-like conditions affect north

The erratic pre-monsoon is likely to have a mixed impact on the plantation crops across the country. Widespread pre-monsoon showers during April-May in the South are seen aiding the growth of crops, such as tea, coffee and cardamom. But, drought-like conditions in the key producing regions of the North, such as Assam and West Bengal, have impacted the tea output during the period.

Rainfall has been good across the key coffee-growing regions of Karnataka and Kerala over the past couple of months. “As we speak, the crop looks good and all the districts are receiving good rains as the monsoon makes progress,” said S Appadurai, Chairman of Karnataka Planters’ Association.

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Berry development in coffee is in three different stages due to the unseasonal rains in January, which triggered early blossom in the Robusta crop in about a fifth of the coffee-growing areas. This could advance the harvest of Robustas to the October-December period coinciding with the Arabicas in these regions, he said.

Jeffrey Rebello, chairman of Upasi Coffee Committee, said regular rains this year had helped the coffee plants to a great extent. However, the key growing regions are receiving heavy rains, which is considered a bit early for this time of the year, he said.

Appadurai said if heavy rains continue in July and August, coffee growers face the threat of fungal diseases such as black rot, among others. Planters are already facing the impact of the labour shortage triggered by the curbs in movement of people due to lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the second wave of coronavirus.

Migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu, North Karnataka and Assam couldn’t make it to the coffee regions, resulting in a delay in carrying out seasonal cultural operations such as shade regulation, pruning, fertiliser application, manuring and spraying, which could affect the yields for the 2021-22 crop year starting October. However, it is too early to quantify the impact and the crop size, Rebello said.

North and South Indian tea producing regions have witnessed a divergent trend in rainfall pattern during the pre-monsoon period. While South Indian tea producing regions witnessed favourable climate, drought-like conditions in the North have hit production in West Bengal and Assam.

N Lakshmanan Chettiar, a senior tea planter at Coonoor in the Nilgiris district, Tamil Nadu, said the rainfall during April-May was promising and the production in the region during these months was better than last year. “Monsoon has broken on time and it is as per the average. It looks very much like a normal monsoon,” he said.

Prashant Bhansali, President, United Planters’ Association of South India (UPASI), said the weather was good during March-April, while production in May as reported by UPASI members was lower due to production fall in Kerala. Labour shortage coupled with the spread of Covid-19 in the second wave, which led to closure of some estates, affected tea production.

The tea crop would be lower in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in May and June. South Indian tea production during January-April 2021 was higher by 16.87 million kg, compared with the corresponding period of the previous year. However, exports declined to 207.58 million kg in 2020 from 252.15 million kg in 2019. During the current year also, exports are lower by 6.99 million kg for the January-March 2021 period.

Bhansali attributed the decline largely to the logistic issues due to non-availability of food grade containers. Though there are increased export orders, the shortage of containers has resulted in an increase in the transaction time and costs, leading to a considerable delay in completing the export formalities.

On cardamom, PC Punnoose, CEO, CPMCL Ltd, said the crop prospects looks bright with a good vegetative growth, thanks to good summer showers, timely onset of monsoon and the increase in the area under cultivation, which was devastated in the two floods of 2018 and 2019.

However, cancellation of cardamom auctions since May 10 is a concern. This has resulted in farmers not gaining access to a pricing mechanism to sell their produce. This, coupled with the travel restrictions of labourers from Tamil Nadu due to Covid-19 protocols, is likely to affect production in this harvest season, he said.

Despite the Spices Board projection of 65,000 tonnes, black pepper production is likely to be lower this year at 55,000-65,000 tonnes, said Kishore Shamji, a pepper trader. He cited a host of factors for the drop, which included climate change, badly affecting the crop, especially in Idukki and Wayanad.

However, Karnataka is going to have a normal crop this year. On the price factor, it has breached the ₹400-level mark. Whether the price factor may sustain or not will depend on the imports from Sri Lanka, which is on the rise, adds Shamji.

Natural rubber production is expected to touch 780,000 tonnes in the current fiscal, thanks to a rise in tappable area to 716,400 hectares from 692,900. According to Rubber Board officials, the surge in prices at ₹170/kg, adoption of plantations by the Board, and switching to self-tapping by growers are some of the factors contributing to the rise production.

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In the case of arecanut, the pre-monsoon rainfall which interrupted the fungicide spraying schedule has triggered tender nut droppings. While the precipitation did help growers facing water shortage, it also led to tender nut droppings in some plantations, said Shankaranarayana Bhat, a farmer from Bantwal taluk of Dakshina Kannada.

SN Khandige, Vice-President of Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative (Campco) Ltd, said the nut dropping will be less if growers take up fungicide spraying before the onset of the rainy season. The early rainfall this year created problems for many farmers to take up fungicide spraying in May, while the ongoing rains are seen impacting the second round of spraying. This may lead to the outbreak of fruit-rot disease in arecanut plantations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has its impact on the management of plantations especially among the small holders who make up a major share. Also, the labour shortage in almost all crops has added to the woes of farmers, says P Indira Devi, agriculture expert. As Kerala has a substantial share in plantation crops such as rubber, tea, and cardamom, the State’s agriculture sector is highly dependent on the weather pattern and any shortfall or higher intensity of rains would adversely affect the production, Devi said.

(With inputs from V Sajeev Kumar, Kochi; Shobha Roy, Kolkata; and AJ Vinayak, Mangaluru)

(This is the last of the series of Kharif Outlook reports that have been appearing in these columns over the last two weeks.)

Published on June 17, 2021

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