Unseasonal rains in the last few days, along with hailstorms in some places, have caused some damage to the standing rabi crop due to lodging and led to delays in harvesting, with a potential output loss of around 10% in case of wheat and chana, sources in the farming community and trade told FE. Horticulture and mustard crops have also been hit by the unexpected spell.
The damages are widespread, with north, west and eastern parts of the country being affected.
In most of the north and central Indian regions, wheat crops looked robust and unaffected by heat at the late-flowering stage and were almost ready for harvest before the rains hit. Source said the harvesting of crops which were reaching the maturity stage will now be delayed till the middle of next month.
According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the key wheat-growing states – Punjab (152%), Haryana (143%), Uttar Pradesh (191%), Rajasthan (315%) and Madhya Pradesh (211%) – have received more rainfall during March 1–25 against the normal benchmark. So far, the March rainfall in 22 states was 29% above the normal level.
Gurvinder Singh, director (agriculture) Punjab, said wheat sown in Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala, Fazilka and Fatehgarh Sahib districts have been impacted by waterlogging and lodging of crops, which is expected to pull down the crop yield by 10-15% from the earlier estimate. Wheat has been sown in 3.4 million hectare (Mha) in the state, of which around 0.5 Mha has been impacted. Punjab has a share of 15% in the country’s wheat production. It contributed 51% to the total government purchase of 18.8 million tonne (MT) in the 2022 season.
“We will harvest wheat after the middle of April instead of the first week. This would leave inadequate time for planting summer crops such as moong and green fodder,” Pritam Singh from Haryana’s Panipat district, who has sown cereal in more than 100 acre, said.
Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann and Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar have ordered surveys to ascertain the loss of crops due to untimely rainfall. While surveys on crop losses are being undertaken by Madhya Pradesh too, the state government has announced a compensation of Rs 32,000 per hectare in case of crop losses of 50% in an area.
The agriculture ministry last month had estimated a record wheat output of 112.2 MT for the 2022-23 crop year (July-June). Mustard seed production is estimated at a record 12.8 MT.
“We have sought reports on the extent of the crop damages and we will take measures to compensate farmers after receiving the reports from the states,” an agriculture ministry official said.
Gyanendra Singh, director at Karnal-based Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research and also a member of the committee set up by the agriculture ministry for monitoring of the wheat crop, told FE that the harvesting of wheat will be delayed by a week or 10 days. “Recent rains are beneficial for late-sown wheat varieties which are expected to provide more time for the crop to mature,” Singh added.
The government is aiming to purchase 34.15 MT of wheat in the April-June marketing season 2023 which officially commences on April 1. Food ministry officials said the commencement of procurement of wheat will be delayed by a fortnight till April 15.
“Because of quality issues due to lustre loss and high moisture content in wheat due to the rains, the private players may shun mandi purchases which will allow government agencies to purchase the grain in substantial quantities,” Mukesh Khatod, a trader from Chittorgarh mandi in Rajasthan, said.
At present, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has wheat stocks of 9.1 MT against a buffer for April 1 of 7.4 MT.
To replenish the stock, the FCI and state agencies have to purchase at least 30 MT of wheat in the April-June 2023 season from farmers so that sufficient quantity of grains is available for the implementation of the National Food Security Act and creation of adequate buffer stock. FCI needs to have a buffer of 27.57 MT of wheat by July 1.
Global wheat prices have cooled in recent months even as domestic wheat inflation is still high.