Untimely rains – The Financial Express

The Financial Express
If it was heat stress in the 2021-22 crop year that impacted the wheat crop and procurement, untimely rains and hail storms this year have damaged the standing wheat crop due to lodging or bending over from high-velocity winds and water-logging resulting in delayed harvesting. The wheat-growing states of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh received more than normal rainfall from March 1-25 that dampens the prospects of a bumper wheat crop of 112.18 million tonnes. The damage has not yet been officially assessed, but a potential output loss of 10% is likely, according to the farming community and trade as reported in the FE.
The contrasts are indeed sharp with the previous crop year. There was very little rain from November to February, but it poured in March. The India Meteorological Department is now predicting more rainfall in the wheat belt. Last year, there was surplus rainfall from September to January followed by a scorching March. Until the unseasonal downpour this March, the wheat crop looked robust despite signs of an early onset of summer with warmer days and rising night temperatures. Besides wheat, the rains have also affected the harvesting of the mustard crop, as also grapes, mango, chilli, coriander, and cumin.
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All of this is bound to affect the government’s procurement operations. Wheat stocks with the Food Corporation of India stand at 8.4 million tonnes (mt) against a buffer for April 1 of 7.4 mt. The FCI and state agencies need to procure at least 30 mt in the current rabi harvesting season from April to June so that adequate grain is available for the implementation of the National Food Security Act and creation of an adequate buffer stock of 27.57 mt of wheat by July 1. The government is therefore taking no chances and now plans to relax norms as the harvested grain will have a high moisture content and lustre-loss due to the rains. Under the fair and average quality standards, the FCI and state agencies purchase wheat at minimum support prices with a maximum moisture content of 12%. Under the relaxed norms, wheat with as high as 14% moisture content can be procured from the farmers. The Centre has relaxed norms for procurement of grain with lustre loss beyond 10% with a marginal cut of only Rs 5.31 per quintal as against the minimum support prices of Rs 2,125 per quintal in MP. Procurement operations have already begun in that state with 0.26 mt purchased so far. A favourable augury for the government’s procurement drive is that private players may shun mandi purchases due to quality issues arising from the moisture-laden crop.
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The upshot is that there is bound to be considerable agrarian distress as farmers suffer huge losses due to untimely rainfall. To be sure, Punjab and MP have extended relief to farmers whose crops have been destroyed. But there is a critical need for a well-functioning crop insurance scheme that makes timely disbursements to the affected farmers. Unfortunately, the flagship Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, which began in 2016, is still a work-in-progress as several states opted out of the scheme due to financial constraints. As a result, from 2018 to 2022, there has been a decline in the number of participating farmers and shrinking coverage. These states must rejoin.PMFBY must be made “smart and transparent with application of modern technologies to assess the damages” according to agricultural economist Ashok Gulati.
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