Harvest fears worsening as winter sowing slows further

Winter sowing has dropped 5.2% drop until Friday from a year earlier, further worsening fears…

Winter sowing has dropped 5.2% drop until Friday from a year earlier, further worsening fears about a smaller rabi harvest for a second straight year through June, more so because the fall in areas under various crops was lower at 4.6% even up to January 2.

Late last month, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh had said the production of winter-sown crops in 2014-15 could be just a tad lower than a year before due to a 13% drop in seasonal monsoon showers from the normal levels, and the consequent impact on soil moisture and water levels. However, the fall in production could be more, as the sowing season is nearing end and there is not much of a scope for the gap to be bridged completely this year. Considering that the government has already estimated a 7% drop in the production of summer-sown grains, any drop in rabi harvest will trim the farm sector growth.

The country had produced a record 135.53 million tonnes of grains in the last rabi season, as against 129.06 million tonnes in 2012-13. The country witnessed a record harvest of over 264 million tonnes of grains last year (in both the kharif as well as the rabi season), compared with 257.13 million tonnes a year before.

According to the farm ministry data, although the planting of wheat, the most important winter-sown crop, has declined marginally until Friday, pulses sowing has dropped by 10%. The area under oilseeds has fallen 8.3% and cereal areas have declined 8%. Total area under various winter crops has fallen to 56.62 million hectares until Friday, compared with 59.72 million hectares in the same period of 2013-14. Winter planting usually starts around mid-September and is mostly over by mid-January.

A drop in acreage and consequent fall in farm production is expected to affect overall economic growth. This is because buoyed by a 4.7% expansion in the farm and allied sectors, remarkable by their standards and compared with 1.4% a year before, the overall economy grew 4.7% in 2013-14 even though industrial growth tattered.

While the mid-year review is targeting 5.5% economic growth for 2014-15, the economic survey has forecast it at 5.4-5.9%, although it has warned that weak monsoon rains could keep growth closer to 5.4%.

Any drop in pulses and oilseed planting raises the country’s reliance on imports, which has often been blamed for high inflation in these commodities in the past. India, a key vegetable oils buyer, imports around half of its annual requirement of cooking oils and one-fifth of pulse needs. Consumer price inflation dropped to 4.4% in November, its lowest since the relevant index was introduced in January 2012, and wholesale price inflation hit zero in November, the meanest since July 2009. However, analysts said once the base effect wears off from November-December, food inflation may rise again, adversely affecting headline inflation figures.

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