The early rise in temperature this month has raised fears that Punjab might slip on the record wheat output it was expecting this season.
Punjab, which produces 60 per cent of the wheat procured by the Food Corporation of India for the country’s central pool, has received no rain in March — once would have been ideal — and has also recorded a sharp increase in temperature in the past four days, with the mercury touching 36 degrees Celsius at many places.
This level of heat at this time of March — otherwise considered a pleasant month — has not been felt in several years.
Besides necessitating the use of coolers and air-conditioners, it also has farmers, agri-scientists and the government worried.
Punjab produced 15.7 million tonnes of wheat last year, contributing about 25 per cent of the country’s total output. A shortfall this season would adversely affect the central government’s hopes of a robust rabi crop that could offset farmers’ losses due to last year’s deficient rainfall.
Punjab Agricultural University Vice-Chancellor M.S. Kang said: "Though no rain in March is not a serious issue, the weather change involving a sharp increase in temperature over the past four days is a cause for concern. If the temperature slips back to normal soon, there will be no (adverse) effect. But if the high-temperature period is prolonged, it will certainty affect the yield of the wheat crop, as it will lead to shrivelling of the grain, which means less weight."
Punjab Farmers Commission Member P S Rangi, however, feels the fears are unfounded.
"There is no need to worry as most grain formation takes place by March 15. If the temperature rises further, there may be some loss, but I still expect a bumper crop this year as well."
While scientists declined to make a definite projection on the possible shortfall, Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal put the figure at 20 per cent.
In a statement issued here on Wednesday, he said the Punjab government was concerned over the effect of the "once in a century" heat wave in March.