Early summer sparks farm fires, wheat yield hit

Updated on Apr 11, 2022 06:26 AM IST

A combination of extremely high temperatures and hot, dry winds across the north Indian plains has caused scores of unusual farm fires in the breadbasket states over the past two weeks, destroying swathes of wheat crop ready for harvest.

High temperatures have caused scores of unusual farm fires. destroying swathes of wheat crop ready for harvest. (HT file)
High temperatures have caused scores of unusual farm fires. destroying swathes of wheat crop ready for harvest. (HT file)

A combination of extremely high temperatures and hot, dry winds across the north Indian plains has caused scores of unusual farm fires in the breadbasket states over the past two weeks, destroying swathes of wheat crop ready for harvest.

Authorities have cautioned farmers, asking them to take precautions, as meteorologists said heatwaves, the main reason for the fires, are unlikely to abate soon. Unchecked, these fires can sweep through human habitations as well, they said.

Ripening wheat crops have caught fire in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana over the past two weeks, farmers and officials said. The winter staple is a major source of farm income in a country where half the population depends on agriculture-based livelihoods.

Authorities in Rajasthan and Punjab have asked farmers to be watchful, avoid smoking near fields, or storing combustible substances, including pesticides and farm chemicals.

In Punjab, the government has resorted to cutting off electricity in high tension wires running through fields as a preventive measure.

“Extreme heatwave conditions and lack of moisture have made vegetation brittle and dry. This makes crops easily combustible,” said Binayak Ghoshal, a former India Meteorological Department official. A carelessly thrown cigarette butt is enough to start wildfires, he said.

North India will continue to face severe heatwave conditions in the coming days, according to Navdeep Dahiya, a forecaster and chief executive of Live Weather of India. The mercury will remain elevated between 40 and 46 degrees Celsius, he said.

At least 36 incidents were reported from the above-mentioned states, according to state officials who spoke to HT.

Farmers scrambled to douse blazes either by spraying tractor-mounted water guns or flattening a section of the wheat crop to stop the fires from spreading.

Heatwaves and droughts induced by climate change will increasingly cause wildfires across the globe, according to the landmark Code Red report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body, in August last year.

Farm activist Ramandeep Singh Mann said he had received reports of at least 1,000 crop fires over the course of the past few weeks, and there has been no word on any compensation from government.

Wheat harvesting has begun in the world’s second-largest grower, which is looking to export between 7-12 million tonnes of the staple to plug a gaping hole in global supplies due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Singh on Sunday tweeted a video from Ganganagar district in Rajasthan, in which cultivators could be seen struggling to douse a massive blaze in a ripening wheat field, as plumes of thick, black smoke rose from charred biomass.

Nearly 10 acres of wheat were wiped out in Chotia Kalan in Punjab’s Moga district, while another large blaze in Barnala district on Saturday was brought under control after authorities deployed fire tenders, said Iqbal Singh, a district official.

In Haryana’s Panipat district, a massive blaze in Adhmi village swept through 30 acres of wheat last week, causing massive losses.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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