Climate change, poor prices deterred tomato growers from cultivating the crop - Hindustan Times

Climate change, poor prices deterred tomato growers from cultivating the crop

ByKetaki Ghoge
Jul 24, 2023 07:14 PM IST

Intense heat, unseasonal rains and deficit monsoon inflated tomato prices as supply crumbled

Amid the many memes of skyrocketing tomato prices and a few accounts of millionaire farmers in Maharashtra striking it big, lies the story of intensifying climate change and poor remunerative prices for farmers.

The lowest prices for tomatoes recorded in May ranging from <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>2.5 to <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>5 a kilo was not enough to even cover transport costs for most farmers.(HT Photo) PREMIUM
The lowest prices for tomatoes recorded in May ranging from 2.5 to 5 a kilo was not enough to even cover transport costs for most farmers.(HT Photo)

A severe summer with high daytime temperatures and unseasonal rains in May, followed by the near absence of monsoon in June affected tomato cultivation in Pune and Nashik, the two main crop-growing regions in the state.

It didn’t help that these climate-induced challenges came on the back of one of the worst price slumps in April and May.

The lowest prices for tomatoes recorded in May ranging from 2.50 to 5 a kilo was not enough to even cover transport costs for most farmers. Many farmers in Nashik at the time had even dumped their harvested crops on roads in quiet desperation and as a mark of protest.

Farmers say that the double impact of climate change and poor prices deterred the majority of tomato growers from cultivating the crop with many even abandoning it halfway, drastically bringing down its supply.

“Climate change has made farming even more of a gamble. This May, the daytime temperatures went as high as 42°C and it was quite cool and even damp in the nights. This wilted the tomato crops that were just flowering at the time,” said Manish More, farmer from Junnar tehsil and founding member of KisanKonnect, a farmer-producer company that aggregates produce from farmers and supplies directly to homes.

“The unseasonal rains hit the standing crop further, the incidence of pests increased and absence of rains in June delayed cultivation. Other flowering crops like chillies have also been affected,’’ Mr More added.

Mr More pointed out that tomatoes also did not attract good prices for nearly three years. So, when prices went as low as 2.5 for a kilo this season, most farmers decided not to cultivate the crop for the second rabi cycle.

“Even those who had planted for the second cycle, discontinued it after the plantation was affected by heat, pests and rains,’’ he said, adding that he switched to cultivating soya beans and other vegetables at his own farm.

Ishwar Gaikar, lately better known as the lucky “crorepati” farmer, is among the minority from Junnar who continued cultivating the crop and made big money.

“I had made significant losses of 15 to 20 lakhs in 2021 on tomatoes, in 2022 also the prices were tame. This year, I took up sowing in April and continued to cultivate the crop across my 12 acres (of land) even when others gave up due to losses from heat and rains. It was just hope and faith. So far, I have made around 3.1 crore,’’ Gaikar said.

Mr Gaikar, however, claimed he spent nearly 3 lakh as input cost on every acre of the crop to ensure a good produce. That’s more than farmers usually spend: On average, farmers say the cost of producing tomatoes is less at around 1 lakh an acre but the amount also depends on the seasons when the crop is cultivated.

Both Mr Gaikar and Mr More said that more accurate and early/advanced weather forecasts can help farmers take a more educated decision ahead of the beginning of crop cycles.

Tomatoes are grown throughout the year in Maharashtra with the rabi cycle starting between December-January and then in March and April; the kharif cycle begins in June, after the monsoons.

Junnar tehsil in Pune is one of the largest producers of tomatoes in the rabi cycle while Nashik farmers largely grow the kharif crop. It typically takes three months for the crops to be ready for harvest, and picking of the vegetable can go on for another 40 days.

Traders and local agriculture marketing committee officials estimate that the supply of tomatoes is down by 50% this year because of inclement weather.

“The supply is down by nearly 50% in Narayangaon, the biggest market this season. Generally, we also get tomatoes from Karnataka but this time we haven’t received that supply as production has also been affected in the South. Both quality and quantity (of tomatoes) have been affected,’’ said Sharad Ghongade, deputy secretary of the Narayangaon market.

Mr Ghongade believes that high price levels will continue for at least 25 days until the next supply of tomatoes from Nashik and if Karnataka hits the market.

From August 15 onwards, the Pimpalgaon market becomes the major market for kharif tomatoes, sourced from Nashik. The July-August period is generally a lean period as it falls between the two cycles. With late monsoons starting only in mid-July in Maharashtra, there is likely to be a further lag, which may not bring prices down substantially.

“Official estimates of planting and production losses are still coming in but overall tomatoes planting during this season has come down to 18,000-odd hectares from 40,000 hectares. Rain deficit, poor prices and other reasons have contributed to this,’’ said a state agriculture department official, who did not want to be quoted. With monsoon delayed by more than a month in Maharashtra, sowing has been extended until mid-August. The impact of this on the agricultural produce remains to be seen.

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