Lag in Kharif sowing: Uneven monsoon to be blamed but no reason to panic yet, say experts

NEW DELHI, July 16: Uneven monsoon may have affected the sowing of Kharif crops in the country but it is too early to panic or worry about the production, food security and inflation, meteorologists and agriculture experts have said.
As of July 15, the area under paddy cultivation is down by 17.38 per cent to 128.50 lakh hectares compared to 155.53 lakh hectares last year, the Union Agriculture Ministry’s data shows.
The ministry has, however, said the lag in area coverage of Kharif crops so far is not a concern and the gap will be covered this month with the progress of monsoon rains.
The monsoon accounts for around 70 per cent of the country’s annual rainfall and irrigates 60 per cent of its net sown area. Nearly half of India’s population depends on agriculture directly or indirectly.
The meteorological office has predicted a normal monsoon this year. The country has recorded 14 per cent excess rainfall so far since the start of the monsoon season on June 1, but the distribution has been uneven.
While south and central India received surplus rains, east and northeast India have reported a deficit.
“The rice-growing states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Jharkhand have recorded deficient rainfall,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president (meteorology and climate change), Skymet Weather.
Uttar Pradesh has received 65 per cent less rainfall than normal. Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal have reported a rain deficiency of 42 per cent, 49 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, as of July 15.
The rainfall deficit has affected the sowing of paddy, the main Kharif crop, in this region.
Palawat said excess rainfall has resulted in flood-like situations at several places in central India and damaged oilseeds, grains and pulses.
Gujarat has gauged 86 per cent excess rainfall since June 1. Maharashtra has recorded 46 per cent excess rainfall while Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have got 12 per cent and 18 per cent excess rain, respectively.
Till June 30, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Chhattisgarh had a rain deficit of 30 per cent, 54 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively.
“Central India received excess rainfall due to back-to-back low-pressure areas in the Bay of Bengal in July which did not allow the monsoon trough to move to the north for an unusually long period. Thus north India remained dry,” Palawat said.
He said the rainfall intensity in Odisha, and the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat is predicted to reduce in the coming days with the shifting of the monsoon trough to the north.
“Rainfall will increase over Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, sub-Himalayan West Bengal and the northeast from July 18 for the subsequent five days,” the India Meteorological Department said.
Former chairman of Punjab Farmers’ Commission Ajay Vir Jhakhar said the lag in Kharif sowing is worrisome but the situation is not yet critical.
“Monsoon failure will have a huge impact on inflation, but it has not failed. It may be erratic in some places but that can be managed. We need not panic,” he said.
Paddy sowing may have been delayed but there is still time, food and trade policy expert Devinder Sharma told PTI.
“That said, if the monsoon remains unpredictable, it is going to affect the yield. Deficit rain or no rainfall at a time when you need it most definitely affects production,” he said.
An early onslaught of heatwaves has already impacted Rabi crops, prompting the government to curb wheat exports and cut output predictions by roughly 5 per cent — from 111.3 million tonnes to 106.4 million tonnes.
Sharma said that’s why the experts have been asking the Government to regulate wheat exports to avoid any unfortunate situation in case paddy yield drops.
“The world is entering a phase where extreme weather events are frequent. Temperatures and rainfall are going topsy turvy and we need to maintain a healthy buffer stock (of food grains) always. These are unpredictable times which may pose a risk to our food security.
“We should think about national interest and not get swayed by what the industry says,” he said.
India is the world’s largest exporter of rice, accounting for over 37 per cent of the global rice trade. A reduction in the yield could prompt the Government to regulate its exports.
K Annapurna, head of the Microbiology Division of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), said an accurate prediction cannot be made until crop sowing is completed.
“The overall production can be on par with last year even if the overall acreage goes down a little bit. Farmers in most of the states will be using high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties of paddy. The varieties will reach their potential if the climate is conducive and there is no disease outbreak.”
“I am not concerned as of now. It will be cause for concern if transplanting is not done by the end of July,” she said, adding India has enough wheat stock despite the reports of the extreme heat causing a drop in production.
“We need to take a call on how much of it we can export without pinching our pocket. The government needs to find a balance. You cannot stop the export altogether. You will not be able to import (oil and gas) if you do so. Your revenues will go down. You need to have foreign exchange,” the IARI expert said.
K K Gill from the Department of Agricultural Meteorology, Punjab Agricultural University, said the state has 98 per cent of its crop area under assured irrigation. So, farmers are not dependent on the monsoon. (PTI)