Kharif crops output and food security
How have heavy rains in July and the El Nino effect in August affected major kharif-season crops?
In Haryana, resowing in time, irrigation cover helped
Despite floods, heavy rains, and water-logging in July as well as the El Nino effect in August, experts expect Haryana, a key producer of rice in the country, to have a bumper crop this year — provided weather conditions remain favourable.
In the second week of July, 10,000 to 20,000 acres of standing crop were destroyed by floods in the districts of Kaithal, Kurukshetra Fatehabad, Sirsa, Karnal, Ambala and Yamunanagar, reports from the state agriculture and revenue departments reveal. The overflowing Ghaggar, Yamuna and Markanda rivers flooded huge areas of paddy crops in the state.
The department also reported a fall in paddy-sown acreage in the state compared to last year — this year, 32.50 lakh acres were sown, while in 2022, 34.35 lakh acres were sown.
According to Madan Khichad, head of agricultural meteorology department of the Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar, between June 26 to September 4, a total of 377.9 mm rainfall was recorded in Haryana state, which is 2% more than the normal rainfall of 369.3 mm. But less than normal rainfall was recorded in 11 districts in the month of August.
State agriculture department officials said that less rains in August did not have any impact on crops as the sowing season was already over, but water logging and floods were the root cause behind the fall in the acreage of paddy in the state.
With 35 lakh MT (metric tonnes), Haryana’s share in total basmati production remains around 42%. The state also produces 55 lakh MT of parmal rice.
So how is it that experts suggest that the state may still have a bumper year?
Farmers in affected areas were able to resow the paddy and had enough time for re-transplantation.
Virender Singh Lather, retired principal scientist, Indian Agricultural Institute (ICAR) New Delhi, said, “Even though the floods in July had damaged huge areas under paddy crop in Haryana, most areas were resown by farmers. This year, the crop is healthy too. No pest attack has been reported in the state so far. [With] favourable weather conditions in the state, there is a strong possibility of a bumper crop”.
Most of the state’s paddy belt is under assured irrigation. Thus, in August, when the El-Nino effect resulted in a dry spell and hotter-than-usual weather, the crop was already around two months old. However, agriculture experts predict an impact on output from parts of Fatehabad and Sirsa districts, as the paddy sowing in these areas depends on canal irrigation which was delayed due to the flooding of the Ghaggar river.
The rainfall figures of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) revealed that in the first month of the arrival of the onset of monsoon, Haryana had recorded 58% more than the normal amount of rain for the period, as the IMD data shows that between June 26, the date of monsoon onset in the state, and July 29, Haryana recorded 312.1mm rain against the normal of 197mm for the period. At least 19 districts in the state received normal or above normal rain while three districts received less than normal rain in the same period. In July, when the state witnessed floods in around 11 districts due to overflowing Yamuna, Ghaggar and Markanda rivers, Haryana had received 230mm rain against a normal of 140mm rain.
IMD figures also reveal that most of the northern districts had received more than double the normal rainfall expected for July. Yamunanagar received the maximum rain at 680mm, followed by Panchkula 668mm, Kurukshetra 520.7mm, Ambala 512mm and Karnal 353mm.
Around 55 percent of the total area under paddy cultivation in Haryana is of the long-grained basmati varieties. The harvesting of early maturing and high-yielding varieties of basmati like Pusa 1509, Pusa 1847 and Pusa 1692 has begun and the farmers said that the average yield was higher than last year.
“I have harvested two acres of Pusa 1509 and the yield has broken the previous record of 22 quintals per acre. This year it was around 23.50 quintal per acre,” said Naresh Kumar, a farmer in Indri, Karnal.
Karam Chand, the deputy director of Haryana Agriculture Department Kaithal said, “Even if there was a slight fall in the area under paddy cultivation in the state, it won’t have any major impact on the rice output.”
The other kharif crops of the state — bajra (pearl millet) and cotton — are two other key Kharif crops of Haryana, and the skewed climate pattern in the past two months has had little impact on their combined acreage, experts said. However, the recent outbreak of Helicoverpa armigera (bollworm) on the bajra crop and pink bollworm attack on cotton crops has left the farmers of the rain-fed belts of the state high and dry.
Bajra is sown on around 12.5 lakh acres in eight districts including Mahendragarh, Charkhi Dadri, Rewari, Bhiwani, Jhajjar, Rohtak, Gurugram and Hisar — the first two districts are worst affected. Cotton is cultivated on around 16.4 lakh acres; the pink bollworm attack is also expected to have a deleterious impact on output.
The harvesting of early maturing varieties of Basmati, which is purchased by private traders, has already started in the northern districts of Karnal, Kurukshetra, Yamunanagar, Ambala, Panipat and Kaithal. But the harvesting of Parmal rice, which is procured by the government agencies, will start in October and continue till the end of November.
Continued deficiency of rains has prompted the agriculture department to encourage farmers to resort to sowing alternative crops instead of just relying on paddy production this kharif season.
Although the paddy coverage went up to almost 99% of the total cultivable area of 35 lakh hectares despite a 21% deficiency in rains, the department is unsure if the production target of around 90 lakh metric tonnes can be achieved. “We will be able to achieve the paddy production target only if the state continues to receive normal rainfall till the end of September,” Anil Kumar Jha, joint secretary, agriculture department said.
The meteorological department predicted normal rainfall at the onset of the kharif season. However, the state received only 659 mm of rain between June 1 and September 6, as against the normal precipitation of 838.6mm. The agriculture department has a date-wise/month-wise/season-wise chart of rainfall, based on normal rain in standard conditions in the state.
“Paddy transplanting does not lead to the proportionate yield often. Sometimes, farmers go in for oilseed production if the paddy crops don’t survive due to abysmal rains,” Vijay Kumar Mishra, a Bikramganj-based farmer, said.
A senior officer of the agriculture department said that the government’s plan of encouraging farmers to go for alternative crops in view of scanty rains in some areas has led to an increase in maize sowing, which is another major crop in Bihar.
“This year, maize coverage has gone up to 103% and is likely to go further up in days to come. The department has distributed high-quality maize seed among farmers in the northeastern and central Bihar regions,” the officer said and added that the dip in the production of paddy and wheat last year had fuelled a surge in foodgrain prices across the state.
The price of rice has already jumped by at least ₹4-5 per kg over the last year due to a decrease in production against the previous season. Likewise, wheat costs around ₹6-8 per kg more than it did last year, as its production was affected by untimely rains in north and central Bihar areas in March.
“In July, the agriculture department allocated ₹100 crore as diesel subsidies to help farmers transplant paddy, owing to rainfall deficiency. However, this is not sustainable. The yield of the crop will be normal only if the rain is timely and sufficient,” the expert said.
A high-ranking state agriculture department official said that the climate crisis was “visible” and “impacting cropping patterns”. “Last year, the cooperative department could procure around 42 lakh metric tonne of paddy against the target of 45 lakh metric tonne owing to deterioration in paddy production. Production of paddy may fall this year too, and so could the procurement for storage by the state food corporation.”
Paddy is harvested during the months of November and December, depending on the variety of seed. Officials said that they will be able to estimate the production by late October after the plants start maturing.
The rain deficit may hit the production of paddy, the chief kharif crop in Uttar Pradesh, amid the government’s efforts to boost the state’s food productivity which is reported to have declined in recent years.
Though the agriculture department claims to have exceeded the target of sowing of kharif crops, including paddy plantation, the lack of rains, it is feared, may hinder the normal and healthy growth of crops resulting in low productivity and production.
According to experts, the paddy crop is likely to be damaged most in eastern UP which has not only received the lowest rainfall, but also accounts for 54% — the highest — paddy cultivation in the state.
The latest rainfall data prepared by the agriculture department reveals that 54 of UP’s 75 districts are grappling with rain deficit in varying degrees. Only 11 districts have been reported to have received normal rainfall from June to September 7. Ten districts have received excess rainfall, that is, above 120% of the normal.
According to the same report, rainfall is deficit (60%-80%) in 27 districts, highly deficit (40%-60%) in 16 districts and scanty (below 40%) in 11 districts, including Gautam Buddha Nagar and Ghaziabad.
Region-wise, the situation is worse in the eastern region which has received only 53.5% of the rainfall so far, followed by 68.8% in the central region, 80.9% in the Bundelkhand region and 90.7% in the western region, the state’s average being 70%.
The report also shows an area of 96.2 lakh hectares of land to be currently under kharif coverage, which is 100.045% of the target fixed for 2023. The kharif crops grown in UP, include paddy, maize, millets, pulses and oilseeds. But paddy, which is the most prominent and the most water-intensive of the crops, has been planted on an area of 58.5 lakh hectares, and this also exceeded the target for the year at 100.879%.
“As much as 54% of UP’s paddy is cultivated in eastern UP, followed by 26% in the western region, 19% in the central and 1% in the Bundelkhand region. As 54% paddy is cultivated in eastern UP alone (the region worst hit by deficit rainfall - just 53% of the normal), paddy production in UP is bound to be down by 5-10% or by 2 quintals per hectare this year,” retired directed director, agriculture (statistics) Rajesh Gupta said.
“Though the paddy plantation target has been more than achieved, the crop still needs a lot of irrigation water for a month now, and without rains, it is not possible to get the desired yield, even if paddy fields are irrigated through alternative means,” he pointed out.
“Freak weather conditions have adversely impacted food productivity, including that of paddy and wheat in recent years, prompting the government to chalk out strategies to meet the challenge. However, any decline in paddy production by itself this year will not impact food security. Any shortfall will be bridged by procuring paddy from states like Punjab and Haryana, if the need arises,” Gupta said.
Secretary, agriculture and caretaker director, agriculture Raj Shekhar admitted to deficit rain in most of the districts in UP, but said it was too early to comment on the possible impact on kharif crops. “The impact, if any, will be known only at the time of harvesting,” he said.
“In the meantime, we are taking steps to save farmers from the adverse impact of deficit rainfall by distributing seeds of crops requiring less water and encouraging them to come under crop insurance coverage,” Shekhar said.
Neeraj Mohan reported from Haryana, Subhash Pathak reported from Bihar and Brajendra K Parashar reported from Uttar Pradesh