Grape growers in Maharashtra are toying with the idea of a permanent solution to overcome the vagaries of weather which wreaks havoc on the crop almost every year.
The last few years have been specially bad for the state, with both hailstorms and unseasonal rains causing damage for farmers who end up staring at losses. The Maharashtra Grape Growers Association is seriously considering encouraging the use of plastic sheeting to protect the crop, a practice that is quite common abroad.
Globally, both agriculture and horticulture have benefited from materials and processes linked with the development of use of plastics. According to market experts, proper use of plastics would help to bring about more efficient farming, irrigation and conservation of vital water, not to mention improved storage and protection of hard-won harvests (some 50% of all developing nations’ produce is destroyed by poor storage and packaging, it is estimated). These are mainly polyethylene, but there is also some PVC used, as well as films made from specialty polymers. Unlike greenhouses of mulching, plastic sheeting is used normally over the crop and does not require special infrastructure.
Official statistics suggest this sector represents only about 2% of all plastic annually consumed in Europe, amounting to about 700,000 tonne of plastic, but other estimates would put this figure at about double, making agriculture and horticulture responsible for consumption of some 1,500,000 tonne of all polymers per year.
In Latin America, farmers are experimenting with okra, tomatoes and avocados grown under plastic sheeting. In India, this could be a new concept.
Ashok Gaikwad, president, Maharashtra Grape Growers Association (MGGA), said the body will approach the state government next week with a proposal to suggest some form of subsidy to help farmers buy this sheeting for their crop. This can not only be used for grapes but for other crops as well, and therefore most farmers would benefit from this, he explained.
Gaikwad, who has frequently travelled abroad to explore new farming techniques, says this form of sheeting is used in several countries and he has been in touch with a few companies for bringing this to India.
Farmers should be encouraged to use sheeting so they are not at the mercy of the weather, he said. If 50% subsidy is given for the purchase of this, it will be of great help, he added.
The state government had on December 16 announced that farmers affected by the recent hailstorm and untimely rains would be
given compensation ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 per hectare.
During a discussion in the legislative council, revenue minister Eknath Khadse said horticulture crops like grapes, mango and banana cultivated on 60,000 hectares land were completely damaged due to unseasonal rains and hailstorm in November-December.
The growers in the state have sought Rs 40 crore of assistance to import good varieties of table grapes.
Farmers have been trying to find new markets to export grapes and also to promote new varieties of the crop so that new markets can be found.
Nashik district is the largest producer of grapes in India, with nearly 1.75 lakh acres under vineyards, while total acreage in Maharashtra is 2.50 lakh acres.
This year, the state has less than 2.50 lakh acres under grape production. Maharashtra contributes 90% of total grape export. Around 70% of its grape export comes from Nashik.