As El Nino looms, anxious eyes on next summer crop

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 14, 2014 23:10 IST

Worries of sluggish sowing of winter crops due to a warmer-than-usual winter have eased with rains and cold conditions setting in fast, but early signs of an El Nino weather event again next year are likely to keep farmers and the government on tenterhooks.

A warm and dry winter so far has prevented replenishment of soil moisture, prompting farmers to plant key winter crops on a lesser total area compared to last year. Sowing is expected to pick up fast, as intermittent rains are expected over central and northern India.

India’s agriculture, however could have a bigger problem to contend with next year: some early predictors indicate that an El Nino could arrive within three months in some parts of the globe.

El Nino, literally “little boy” in Spanish, is a weather glitch marked by a warmer Pacific Ocean and associated with droughts in some regions, such as India, and floods in others.

“Despite the summer drought, the drop in overall kharif season’s output was just about 2.5%. We still ended with surplus stocks. This warm weather will not last. So, there is no threat to wheat,” agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh has told HT.

According to data released by the farm ministry, as on December 12, wheat acreage stood at 24.1 million hectares, compared 25.1 million hectares around this time a year ago. Likewise, the millets area stood at 4.6 million hectares, compared to last year’s 5 million hectares.

Climate indicators are close to El Nino thresholds, the Australian weather bureau said in a December bulletin, with models indicating a 70% chance of an event arriving by February. If the conditions persist, it would be time for India’s June-September monsoon.

“The prediction of a fresh El Nino warning in Australia has immediate implications for Australia. For India, it is still early to comment either way. We are aware of the Australian report,” S. Sivananda Pai, India’s chief monsoon forecaster told HT.

“Together with the drop in kharif produce, rabi output could fall by 1-2%,” Harsh Khandelwal, an analyst with commodities firm, Comtrade, said.

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