Maharashtra stares at 30% drop in cane acreage due to water shortage

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Pune | Published: January 14, 2016 12:08:16 AM

Maharashtra is staring at a drastic drop in sugarcane planting for the 2016-17 season. With water levels depleting at an alarming rate in the state dams, plantation for the season...

Maharashtra is staring at a drastic drop in sugarcane planting for the 2016-17 season. With water levels depleting at an alarming rate in the state dams, plantation for the season, which has just begun, is likely to be hit by up to 30%, officials said.

The ‘suru’ (ratoon) planting has just begun and a review will be taken after February 15, said Vipin Sharma, Maharashtra sugar commissioner.

According to senior officials, new plantation usually goes up by 35% every year but this year overall new plantation has gone down by 20% because of the water shortage. As a result, the ratoon planting is likely to be around 45-60% in the coming season and the overall planting is likely to be affected to the tune of 20-30%, the officials said.

Till date around 50% plantation has been completed and because of the paucity of water farmers are now either resorting to ratooning or opting for less water-intensive crops, they pointed out, adding that mills in Marathwada region are the hardest hit and plantation in this region could be affected to the tune of 50%.

According to Shivajirao Nagawade, chairman, Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation (MSCSFF), total production in the 2016-17 season could be just 50-60%. The state has an opening balance stock of 29 lakh tonne and therefore even if the plantation is affected, the state may not need to import in the coming season, he said. The situation also depends on the production in the other states.

BB Thombre, president, Western Sugar Mills Association (WSMA) agrees and says that in 2016-17, the state is likely to produce some 50 lakh tonne as against the 75-80 lakh tonne expected in the ongoing season. Mills in Marathwada, Solapur and Ahmednagar are badly hit and may not report 25% production in the 2016-17 season, he said. It is the carryover stock and the performance of the other sugar producing states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat that will come to our aid then, he said.

The staggering of sugarcane planting in three seasons usually helps to ensure continuous cane supply to the sugar factories, whose crushing season is 160 to 180 days from mid-October or November onwards. In ratooning, the cane stem has an inherent ability of giving out new shoots from underground stems. If proper care is taken, these shoots develop into normal cane. This method of raising crop is called ratooning. Taking ratoon crop is economical because it saves labour on preparatory tillage, opening ridges and furrows and planting. It also saves expenditure on seed material, as new sets are not required to be planted. If proper care is taken of ratoon crops as is taken of regular crop, ratoon crop also gives as much yield as regular crop. On account of these advantages, ratooning has become very popular among sugarcane growers. Of the total area under sugarcane in Maharashtra 40-60% is under ratooning.

While mills in the drought-hit Marathwada region are likely to finish crushing by the end of January, April-end could mark the end of the season for the rest of the state, top government officials said. Last year, the season ended on June 12.

Significantly, after a series of bumper harvests, Maharashtra has been hit by drought forcing authorities to divert water from agriculture.  Fears are also being expressed that the country may have to import sugar unless proper buffer stock is built.

According to Sharma, the opening balance in the ongoing season was 29 lakh tonne.  The government has also cut down estimates for sugar down to 80-85 lakh tonne for the current season. Last season, the state produced a record 104 lakh tonne. In the 2008-09 season, when the rains failed, Maharashtra had become an importer.

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