Extreme early summer sparks farm fires in food-bowl states, destroys harvest-ready wheat

Published on Apr 10, 2022 08:11 PM IST

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

Ripening wheat crops have caught fire in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana over the past two weeks due to extreme heatwave conditions. (Image used for representation). (HT PHOTO.)
Ripening wheat crops have caught fire in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana over the past two weeks due to extreme heatwave conditions. (Image used for representation). (HT PHOTO.)

A combination of extreme early-summer temperatures and hot dry winds across north-Indian plains has caused scores of unusual farm fires in food-bowl states over the past two weeks, destroying swathes of harvest-ready wheat crops in at least four.

Authorities have cautioned farmers, asking them to take precautions, as meteorologists said heatwave conditions, the main reason for the fires, are unlikely to abate soon. Unchecked, these fires can sweep through human habitations also, 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 food-bowl 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 wild fires, he said.

According to Navdeep Dahiya, a forecaster and the CEO of Live Weather of India, north India will continue to face severe heatwave conditions in coming days. The mercury will remain elevated, between 40 and 46 degree Celsius, he said.

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

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

According to the IPCC’s landmark Code Red report, climate-change induced heatwaves and drought will increasingly cause forest and wildfires across the globe.

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

Wheat harvesting has begun in the world’s second-largest grower, which is looking to export between 7-12 m tonne 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, a massive blaze in Adhmi village swept through 30 acres of wheat, causing massive losses last week.

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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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