Dry, chilly winter and rabi crop

2021-22 was the Year of Climate Change for Indian agriculture. Every single month from September 2021 to January 2022 recorded extra rain, which considerably broken the post-monsoon kharif crop on the time of harvesting. This was adopted by the most popular March in 122 years. The sudden mercury surge after mid-March took a heavy toll on the standing wheat that was within the remaining ripening and maturity stage.

2022-23 has been fairly totally different. Rainfall was 37.4% beneath the all-India common in November, with the corresponding deficits at 14.5% for December and 57.5% throughout January 1-22. The shortfalls have been better in northern, central, and western India, the place a lot of the rabi winter-spring crops — particularly wheat, mustard, chana (chickpea), and masur (purple lentil), as additionally maize, potato and onion — are grown.

The India Meteorological Department has forecast “scattered to fairly widespread rainfall accompanied by thunderstorm activity” over Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh throughout January 24-26, apart from “light isolated” rain over north Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. A contemporary western disturbance is anticipated to carry extra rain over northwest India from January 27.

But total, it’s been a chilly and dry winter thus far, not like the final time.

How will this affect the rabi crops?

Farmers have sown wheat on 341.13 lakh hectares (lh) this time, as towards 339.87 lh in 2021-22, and a standard space of 304.47 lh. That ought to ordinarily translate into bumper manufacturing — required notably within the context of annual retail cereal inflation hitting 13.79% in December and wheat shares in authorities warehouses on January 1 at a six-year-low. (See chart)

But on condition that harvesting is greater than two months away — and realizing the havoc premature heavy rain and hailstorms (as in March 2015) or early onset of summer season (March 2022) can wreak — making any output predictions based mostly on crop acreages is fraught with danger.

For now, policymakers can take consolation from two issues.

The first is the more-than-adequate public shares of rice to satisfy the general public distribution system’s necessities, earlier than the brand new wheat crop arrives from April. The second is worldwide wheat costs, which have eased significantly from their March-May highs instantly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prices on the Chicago Board of Trade futures alternate are ruling at their lowest since September-October 2021. (See chart)

These consolation components might not, nevertheless, suffice within the occasion of a crop failure much like final 12 months’s — which led to wheat procurement by authorities businesses plunging to 187.92 lakh tonnes (lt), from 433.44 lt in the course of the previous advertising season (April-June). A second consecutive poor crop, forcing India to import, might effectively drive up international costs once more.

What is the present crop situation?

The wheat that was sown earlier than mid-November is now within the “boot” stage, the place the earheads (which bear the flowers and ultimately grain) are forming on the prime of the vegetation. Heading (when the earheads absolutely emerge from the stem) and flowering (pollination) occurs inside 90-100 days from sowing, which is adopted by about 25 days of early kernel formation (“milk” stage) and one other 15 days or extra of grain-filling (“dough”).

“The crop is looking very good. The combination of sunny skies and low night temperatures that we are having is just right for wheat,” Rajbir Yadav, principal scientist on the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), mentioned.

However, he added that rain could be welcome presently: “It will provide growth momentum to the crop by cooling the canopy and enabling natural nitrogen fixation.”

Pritam Singh, a farmer from Urlana Khurd village in Haryana’s Panipat district, claimed that gentle showers together with thunderstorms now could be equal to making use of 15 kg of urea per acre. Rainwater may even wash away the mud and pollution deposited on leaves; it is usually purer than groundwater that will comprise salts and different contaminants.

Further, it is going to save irrigation prices. Wheat wants round 4 irrigations, and as much as 5 or 6 if there is no such thing as a rain. “Irrigating one acre takes 5 hours and 1-1.5 litres of diesel per hour. So, for every extra irrigation, you burn an additional 5-7.5 litres at Rs 90/litre,” Singh identified.

What is the state of affairs with mustard?

Farmers have planted an all-time-high space of 91.56 lh beneath mustard, in comparison with 84.47 lh in 2021-22, and the traditional common of 63.46 lh. Unlike with wheat although, the dry and chilly winter has not been helpful for mustard.

The cause: Mustard, which is usually sown by October-end, begins flowering after 50-60 days and forming siliqua (pods containing seeds) over the subsequent 35-40 days. The extreme chilly wave circumstances prevailing over Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh throughout January 15-18 is believed to have triggered frost harm to the crop in lots of areas.

Mustard was susceptible as a result of siliqua/ pod growth has been superior in its case — versus wheat, the place even flowering is but to start.

While clear sunshine within the morning and a pointy dip in evening temperatures to close freezing level isn’t dangerous for wheat within the tillering/ booting levels, it may be disastrous for mustard. The extent of damage or rupture of the pods attributable to chilly shock and frost — ice crystals forming contained in the plant tissues — remains to be not recognized.

“We are getting reports from the ground and assessing how much damage has been done. Thankfully, the cold wave has abated after January 19, and there have been no further frost attacks. One must also pray for only light rain and no hail or strong winds that could lead to lodging (bending) of the crop,” Pramod Kumar Rai, head of the Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research at Bharatpur (Rajasthan), instructed The Indian Express.

Mustard is harvested by March-end, with seed-filling and ripening happening within the final 45-50 days.

Has chana been affected too?

Chana is the second greatest rabi crop by space, with farmers sowing 110.91 lh. That’s down from final 12 months’s 112.65 lh, however larger than the traditional space of 98.86 lh. Sowing stretches from end-September (in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) to October (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat) and the primary fortnight of November (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab), with the crop period additionally extending from 100-110 days to 120-130 and 130-140 days in these three areas.

“There has been no loss from frost, as flowering will start only towards end-January/early-February and pod-setting 25-30 days after that. The crop condition is good, but rain will be helpful at this point,” Shailesh Tripathi, principal scientist and chana breeder at IARI, mentioned.

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