Another food ministry team to visit Punjab to assess wheat crop damage

Last month, the Punjab government urged the Centre to relax the quality norms for wheat procurement as a higher than prescribed level of shrivelled grains in the state’s current crop has led to a fall in purchases.

The state government on Thursday announced gradual closure of mandis because of a dip in wheat arrival.
The state government on Thursday announced gradual closure of mandis because of a dip in wheat arrival.

The ministry of food has sent a second team to Punjab to assess the extent of the problem of shrivelled wheat grain currently being procured by government agencies from farmers.

The state government on Thursday announced gradual closure of mandis because of a dip in wheat arrival.

Sources told FE that food ministry officials are visiting various mandis in the state to take wheat samples for ascertaining the extent of shrivelled wheat grain caused by the heatwave in the later part of the March, considered as the ripening time for the crop.

The ministry had sent a team to the state last month to study the extent of shrivelled grain. The team, had in its report, stated that extreme heat in March and early April has increased shrivelled grain percentage to 10-20% in the state, as against 6% prescribed by the Food Corporation of India (FCI).

Last month, the Punjab government urged the Centre to relax the quality norms for wheat procurement as a higher than prescribed level of shrivelled grains in the state’s current crop has led to a fall in purchases.

Sources said that FCI has favoured similar relaxations for procurement in Haryana.

In the absence of official communication regarding changes in specifications, wheat is being purchased from farmers in Punjab under the relaxed guidelines, and the grain would not be moved to FCI godowns in other states.

Government agencies have procured more than 17.31 million tonne (MT) of wheat from farmers, mostly in key growing states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, till Thursday — a decline of more than 45% compared to the same period in the previous year.

According to the ministry, Minimum Support Price (MSP) value of Rs 34,499 crore has been transferred to more than 18.5 lakh farmers for wheat procurement this session.

Five agencies, including FCI, Markfed and Pungrain, have been entrusted with the wheat procurement at MSP from farmers in Punjab, where more than 9.28 MT has been purchased so far against 12.33 MT purchased a year ago. Officials said procurement in Haryana and Punjab is expected to be completed in the next one week.

In Haryana, 4.03 MT has been procured by agencies, while in Madhya Pradesh, more than 3.81 MT has been purchased.

In other wheat-growing states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Gujarat, the volume of grain procurement has been marginal.

Wheat procurement is being keenly watched this time as a surge in exports has pushed up mandi prices above the MSP of Rs 2,015 per quintal.

Food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey earlier this week had said the lower output, coupled with private purchase from farmers by exporters, and traders holding on to the stocks would lead to a 55% year-on-year decline in wheat procurement in the 2022-23 marketing year to 19.5 MT. This means the purchases of the cereal by the government at MSP would hit a 13-year low this year.

The government has revised the estimate of wheat production in the 2021-22 crop year (July-June) to 105 MT, down from its February projection of 111.32 MT, based on reports that the early onset of summer in March has adversely impacted crop yield.

India is aiming at exporting 10 MT of wheat in 2022-23. However, with the domestic prices of wheat ruling above MSP, the government is likely to take measures to restrict exports soon.

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