Heatwaves hit wheat yields, exports at risk | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Heatwaves hit wheat yields, exports at risk

Apr 19, 2022 05:04 AM IST

Heatwave conditions in March, when the crop was in advanced ripening stage, shrivelled grains, affecting both quality and weight of output, farmers said

Hot weather across north India has cut wheat yields at a time when the country is counting on a bumper crop to tap an export market left struggling with a gap in supply due to the Ukraine war, farmers and traders said.

Extreme dry and hot weather prior to wheat harvest causes a condition known as terminal-heat stress, which wilts crops. (Santosh Kumar/ HT photo)
Extreme dry and hot weather prior to wheat harvest causes a condition known as terminal-heat stress, which wilts crops. (Santosh Kumar/ HT photo)

The main winter staple is currently being harvested in major grain-bowl states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Cultivators said their per-acre yields (one acre equals 0.40 hectare) have fallen 10-15%.

Heatwave conditions in March, when the crop was in advanced ripening stage, shrivelled grains, affecting both quality and weight of output, farmers said.

In February, the government forecast wheat production would be a record 111.32 million tonnes this year, against 109.59 million tonnes the previous year. An early summer marked by nearly a month of above-normal temperatures in March now threatens to upend that estimate.

“I have harvested five acres of my wheat crop so far. My average yield has been 16 quintal an acre. Last year, my yield was 23 quintal an acre,” said Daljit Singh Sandhu, a farmer in Punjab’s Ferozepur district said. A quintal equals 100 kg.

In neighbouring Haryana’s Babbain village, near the historic town of Kurukshetra, wheat-grower Jaspal Singh Nain said his wheat yields fell by five quintals an acre, which means he will earn about 11,000 less per acre given that minimum support prices are about 2,015.

Extreme dry and hot weather prior to wheat harvest causes a condition known as terminal-heat stress, which wilts crops. Such a weather pattern last occurred in 2010, when wheat yields dropped 26% in Punjab, according to data from the Ludhiana-based Borlaug Institute.

India is relying on surplus stocks and an anticipated bumper harvest to plug a gap in global wheat supplies due to the Ukraine war. India is looking to export wheat to countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Philippines, a few African nations and even Europe, as food prices soar.

On April 15, Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, approved India as a supplier to fill a sizeable void in its domestic stocks due to the war. Commerce minister Piyush Goyal last week said the government was confident India’s wheat exports in the current fiscal will breach the initial target of 10 million tonne and may even touch 15 million tonne. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also said India was ready to help any country with food assistance.

World food prices jumped significantly in March 2022 -- up 12.6% from February -- to reach their “highest levels ever” due to the Ukraine war, according to a latest update by the FAO. Ukraine and Russia account for around 25% of global wheat exports, now disrupted by war. And global wheat exports account for around 25% of total global wheat production.

“Large farmers we have interacted with show wheat yields have dropped in entire northern India. There may be a 15-20% drop due to terminal-heat-stress problem,” said Karnal-based Rajinder Singh, a retired agriculture scientist with Haryana government, who now works on climate change at the All-India People’s Science Network.

“We could end up with the lowest output in 15 years and that could impact out export plans,” Singh said.

“FCI teams will submit a report on quality of grains after touring mandis,” an official with knowledge of the matter said.

Teams from the Food Corporation of India, the state-run grain-handling agency, are visiting agricultural markets in Punjab to assess grain quality. “We showed them the poor quality and told them that some farmers reported nearly 20% fall in yields,” HS Sheru, president of Patiala’s Commission Agents’ Association said.

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