Fresh storms, hail rain misery on farmers
A fresh bout of stormy weather brought heavy rain and hail, and more misery for the agriculture sector, this week with farmers, meteorologists and commodity traders fearing significant damage to key rabi crops and held up harvesting
A fresh bout of stormy weather brought heavy rain and hail, and more misery for the agriculture sector, this week with farmers, meteorologists and commodity traders fearing significant damage to key rabi crops and held up harvesting.
A rare and powerful tornado ripped through farm belts, including Fazilka, in Punjab on Friday afternoon, damaging wheat and chilli, farmers said, and hailstorms battered parts of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) shared in an update on Saturday.
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According to farmers and traders in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, fields with standing crops were flattened, affecting wheat, the main winter staple, mustard, oilseeds, fenugreek and an array of horticulture crops, which could potentially raise vegetable prices in coming weeks.
“There are reports of damage to wheat in an estimated 400,000 hectares. We request the Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann ji to expedite crop-loss estimates,” said independent farm expert Ramandeep Singh Mann.
The Rajasthan government, after a review, asked farmers to register crop losses within 72 hours on the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (a subsidised farm insurance scheme) helpline. “The disturbances will start abating from Saturday,” said Surendra Ahlawat, a former forecaster with IMD.
Madhya Pradesh has announced compensation to farmers at the rate of ₹32,000 per hectare in case crop loss is in an area of 50% or above and surveys are under way, a state agriculture department official said, requesting anonymity.
The latest spell, beginning March 23 evening, delivered “heavy” or “significant” amounts of rainfall, apart from hail, in parts of Punjab, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, among others, the IMD update on Saturday said.
“Most of the wheat crop on my 15 acres was already flattened with rain over the week and now we are concerned that the water logging will damage the grain,” said a wheat grower Deshraj in Karnal district.
Initial reports from districts collected by the state agriculture department suggest rain and hail storms have impacted around 500,000 acres of area under wheat and 165,000 acres of mustard crops.
On Saturday, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar conducted an aerial survey of crops affected by untimely rains and hailstorms.
In Punjab, reports of crop damage came from Sangrur, Barnala, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala, Jalandhar, Amritsar, Tarn Taran and the districts in south-west Punjab. The state agriculture department had estimated damage to 400,000 hectares earlier in the week, and officials on Saturday said that number is likely to grow.
The wet spell came even as most forecasters last month warned of danger to crops from heatwaves, prompting the Union government to sound an alert. A record hot spell in March 2022 had shrunk wheat output by 2.5% to 106 million tonne, triggering shortages.
Most states of the country have faced inclement weather, which began around mid-March, set off by back-to-back rain-bearing systems known as western disturbances and cyclonic patterns.
“The main concern with wheat is not so much about a fall in output but damage to quality of grains. Farmers done with harvesting are bringing soggy and discoloured grains to market, which affects their price,” said CP Gupta, proprietor of Cheshta Enterprises, a commodity trading firm in Kota, Rajasthan.
The Union government doesn’t yet have any official estimate as surveys are the responsibility of states, an official requesting anonymity said.
Adequate harvests are critical this year amid wheat shortages and high food inflation. Consumer cereal prices climbed 16.73% in February, against a rise of 16.12% in January. India has forecast a wheat output of 112.3 million tonne, the highest ever.
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A video clip shared with Gupta by a farmer in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan showed vast tracts of farmland carpeted with hail overnight, according to the trader. Gupta said these areas had mixed standing crops, such as wheat and fenugreek.
Harvesting of wheat, due towards March-end, and its procurement is set to be a “little” delayed in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the official said, adding: “Dry weather is expected soon.” Procurement refers to the central government’s purchases of grains at floor prices, which it then redistributes to nearly 800 million beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act 2013.
(With inputs from HT correspondents in Chandigarh)