For the second year in a row, deficit rain will likely have a pronounced adverse effect on the country’s farm output, early reports from key crop-producing states indicate, belying the government’s optimism in this regard.
FE’s interactions over the past two weeks with policymakers in several states prompted the conclusion that foodgrain output, which declined 4.5% in the last crop year through June 2015, could witness a fall in the current season as well unless the rabi season turns out to be remarkably good.
Rice cultivation seems to have taken a hit with the reduced sowing area in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, even though the latest official estimate is that pan-India area under this most important summer-sown crop rose 4.3% until Friday from a year earlier. Not only rain deficit, uneven distribution of the showers have also turned out to be an issue, as in West Bengal where floods affected sowing of rice.
Several other crops including jowar, soyabean, tur, maize, cotton and even plantation crops like pepper, cardamom, rubber and tea have already felt the impact of prolonged dry spells in the relevant geographies during the current monsoon period, going by reports from the field.
Using its Deficient Rainfall Impact Parameter, Crisil on Wednesday virtually confirmed the precarious situation on the ground and said that four states (Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh) which make up for a third of the country’s grain production and five crops (jowar, soyabean, tur, maize and cotton) have been hurt the most by deficient rains.
While a 12% monsoon deficit and the unseasonal rains that ravaged winter cultivation brought down last year’s grain output by nearly 5%, the water storage levels and groundwater levels currently are lower than a year ago, implying that the adverse impact of the deficient rains could be graver this year. The country is clearly bearing the brunt of having more than half of its farmland rein-fed, despite some headway in extending the irrigated area.
The India Meteorological Department this month retained its earlier forecast of a deficient monsoon season for 2015, with rainfall at 88% of the benchmark long-period average (LPA) — the same as last year — as monsoon rains lost intensity since early July. Worse, the weather office has now predicted rainfall to be 84% of the benchmark average in the second half of the June-September season, far lower than the actual showers of 95% of the LPA in the first two months of the season.
It has also maintained its rain forecast for August at 90% of the LPA, with a model error margin of 9%.
Storage across 91 water reservoirs touched 87.09 billion cubic metres (bcm) up to Thursday, down 13.2% from 100.36 bcm a year earlier and even lower than the normal 10-year average of 90.68 bcm.
Paddy cultivation in Andhra Pradesh, one of the largest rice-producing states in the country, is adversely impacted as farmers in the state and adjoining Telangana are constrained by prolonged dry spells and insufficient water levels in the states’ reservoirs. Of the total 1.2 lakh acres of total cropped area, paddy production is expected to be about 60 to 80 lakh tonnes.
Karnataka too has seen below-normal sowing of kharif crops. As many as 16 districts have witnessed 22% shortfall in rains this year. The state government has already declared 98 taluks in 26 districts as drought-hit and has released Rs 200 crore to supply drinking water and dig borewells in villages.
In Maharashtra, state agricultural department officials are pinning hopes on the rabi season, since it is too late to rescue the kharif crop which has taken a hit because of dry spells. Although 87% of the sowing have been completed across the state, officials say, the rabi season could see a 20% increase during the year to 134 lakh hectares.
Officials in Odisha, which received 13% less rains during June and August, are preparing themselves to face a drought-like situation. Six of the 30 districts saw the deficit widen to 40%.
In West Bengal, too much of rains have in turn caused floods, damaging paddy crops. Twelve districts in India’s biggest rice producing state have been declared as flood-hit by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. About 80% of the total 12 lakh hectares of area under cultivation for kharif rice, have been damaged. Among them, officials say, widespread damage has been caused to standing paddy crops in Bardhaman, Murshidabad, East and West Midnapore districts.
The state government is trying to minimise the damage caused by the excess rains while at the same time trying to maintain grain output. The state produced 159 lakh tonnes of rice last year, with about 115 lakh tonnes produced during the kharif season.
Although Crisil listed UP among the worst affected states, officials in Lucknow say the state is likely to report higher production and that the total area under cultivation of various crops has increased during the current season. The coverage of kharif crops such as moong, urad, arhar, peanut, soyabean, and til has increased to 93.62 lakh hectares, higher than the 83.78 lakh hectares a year earlier.
Kerala, where the monsoon hits first and has traditionally seen rains much higher than national average, has also witnessed a 30% rain deficit this season. The state’s production of plantation crops such as pepper, cardamom, rubber, tea, coffee and spices is directly related to the quantum and timing of rains. While too much rain damages most of the cash crops, too short a monsoon also leads to lower crop production.
But there are some bright spots in the official estimates. Areas under pulses and coarse cereals in the country surged 11.6% and 5.5%, respectively, up to Friday from a year earlier, while those under oilseeds rose 1.8% over last year. Barring cotton, which witnessed a 7% drop in acreage, planting of all other major crops improved from a year before, maintains the union agriculture ministry.
(Sandip Das, Banikinkar Pattanayak, BV Mahalakshmi, Rajesh Ravi, Nanda Kasabe, Mithun Dasgupta, Deepa Jainani and Mahesh Kulkarni contributed to this story. For detailed state-wise stories on monsoon impact on crops visit www.financialexpress.com)