Will rabi bring a better harvest?

Prerana Desai | Updated on March 10, 2018



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Yes, but it may not wholly make up for the drought-stricken kharif season

Agriculture commodity supplies are erratic in India. They are more so now, due to a second consecutive year of below-normal monsoon, which has resulted in big setbacks to the kharif crop. Edelweiss Agri Research recently took up a nation-wide crop survey to estimate the sowing intentions for the upcoming rabi season. This, along with the kharif crop survey throws new light on how supplies of agri-commodities may pan out this year.

Farmers usually switch their acreage between crops based on prices prevailing during sowing and arrivals, ease of cultivation, duration of the crop and water and seed availability.

We have used these factors, combined with a tele-survey of progressive farmers, to arrive at the rabi sowing intention projections. For the crop survey team of 10 trained persons toured important States in October, for the production estimates of important kharif crops. The table accompanying this article gives an overview of the production for the already complete kharif season and the upcoming rabi crop which is being estimated. The following trends are notable.

Across states, a glaring finding is that the kharif crop across India has been a washout. Of the two key food grain crops, rice is mainly grown in the kharif season. The output this year is expected to be 3.6 per cent below last year’s levels.

Recent surveys show that other kharif crops, which have shown improvement over last year, will still see their output fall short of 2013-14 levels, which was a normal monsoon year. Major kharif crops such as soyabean, cotton, groundnut, maize, guar seed, moong and urad were hit badly by twin problems that manifested this season.

First, the crop was impacted by higher than expected rainfall and then by a prolonged dry spell in key growing States. The dry spell over soyabean and pulses-growing regions has drastically pruned their yields, which was worsened by the infestation of yellow mosaic virus.

Maize, the other major cereal for kharif, saw reduced yield in most States, barring MP and UP. Cotton production was hit by the dreaded white fly infestation in North India, which pruned yields drastically by 30 to 40 per cent. Guar seed production is reported lower by nearly 20 per cent, year-on-year.

Sesame seed and jowar are two less water-intensive crops that have managed to weather this difficult kharif season. While our survey shows that tur (kharif) prospects were initially good, recent reports from the ground suggest that the lack of rains for past 40-50 days may have damaged the crop in Marathawada and North Karnataka. Overall, as the kharif season draws to a close, sesame seed, castor seed and sugar are the only crops that may see a higher harvest compared to 2013-14.

Rabi outlook

The Edelweiss Agri Research study of historic trends shows that the Indian rabi crop usually performs well during El Nino years. This year too, higher rabi production is in the offing, in line with this historical trend. Our survey suggests that groundnut, maize, barley and channa output may be higher than last year.

However, the food grain crops of wheat and paddy are not expected to do better. The irrigation-intensive wheat will see lower acreage this rabi season. These crops are also long duration crops and could be hit by any incidence of above-normal temperature closer to the grain development phase.

But despite such setbacks, the overall trend suggests that the combined area under various crops for both kharif and rabi together may be flat to slightly higher than last year.

Not back to normal

But it still remains sharply lower compared to acreage for 2013-14. This is also reflecting in the crop production numbers. Overall, the rabi crop will not be able to bridge the deficit created by the lower kharif crop in the case of both rice and maize. One piece of good news for inflation watchers, is that with no major weather deviation, rabi pulses will largely make up for the losses in the kharif season. Total (kharif and rabi) pulses production for the 2015-16 agri season, will be higher by 9.4 per cent compared to last year. However, this will still remain far below (down by 18 per cent) 2013-14 levels.

The writer is VP, Agri Value Chain, Edelweiss Financial

Published on December 13, 2015

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