Wheat, the country’s winter staple, has hit hurdles, with farmers unable to sow the normal area and instances of a dreaded fungus attack being reported from some parts of Punjab and Haryana, raising concerns of a lower output.
Summer foodgrain output fell 1.7% at 124.05 million tonne, according to the government’s first of the four quarterly estimates due to a crippling back-to-back drought. This has hurt farm incomes, which support nearly half the population, stoking a rural distress. A smaller wheat crop could hurt rural earnings further.
Acreage of wheat, a big crop which boosts farmers’ earnings, is down 7% and yellow fungus — dubbed “agriculture’s polio” that can devastate whole fields unless checked — have prompted an alert from the directorate of wheat research to the farm ministry.
The fungus, a constantly moving one that gets blown from farm to farm, needs to be immediately checked with appropriate anti-fungal measures, the directorate of wheat research has said in an advisory. “The fungus is localised as of now and has been reported from fields in Punjab’s Himalayan foothill areas of Anandpur Sahib and Nangal. But it can spread. That’s the worry,” said Indu Sharma, who heads the Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research, the top state-run crop advisory body. In 2006-07, a yellow-fungus attack crippled 2 million hectares, she said.
According to the advisory, wheat growers must spray any of the approved fungicides, such as propiconazole for crop protection.
Wheat sowing levels are down 7% because of poor soil conditions due to drought and wild swings in temperatures in the bread basket of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers have been able to sow 520.07 lakh hectare until last week, compared to 540.17 lakh hectare in the corresponding period last year.
There are very little, if any, chances that the shortfall would be made up because the sowing seasons is virtually over. “Temperatures in November and December fluctuated widely, from warm to cold. This did not allow farmers to plant wheat sufficiently. Only late-sown varieties can be sown now,” Sharma said.
The Modi government has been struggling with an agrarian distress, which impacts livelihoods and overall growth.