Delayed monsoon slows Kharif sowing

NEW DELHI: A delayed and deficient monsoon so far has slowed summer crop sowing, sparking a concern over farm output, especially pulses. The average rainfall in the first two weeks of June is deficient by 42%, which is unlikely to recover to normal by the end of the month as monsoon has progressed little after setting in on June 8 – late by a week.

Due to the late monsoon, farmers are yet to start sowing in many parts of the country. This year, area under cultivation dropped 9% in the first two weeks of June from last year. So far, farmers have sown across 82.20 lakh ha, around 7.8% of the total area that goes under cultivation in the entire Kharif season.

Paddy acreage is 4.26 lakh ha against 5.47 lakh ha in the corresponding period last year.

Similarly, area for pulses reduced from 2.11 lakh ha in 2018 to 1.04 lakh ha this year. Water storage in 91 reservoirs of the country is also posing a threat on availability of drinking water and irrigation facilities. The reserve has gone down to 18% of the total capacity, which may look better than last year’s 17% at this time, but last year monsoon hit the country three days in advance while this year it is late by a week.

“Monsoon has yet to pick up steam. So the current data are non-conclusive. The moment monsoon spreads, situation will improve drastically,” said a senior agriculture department official.

The forecast of a normal monsoon by the weather office also keeps hope of a bountiful harvest this year afloat. India Meteorological Department (IMD), despite the delay and slow progress of monsoon, is maintaining that rains will be in the normal range with good spells in latter half.

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“Monsoon has just started. We expect good rains in July and August, when it matters most. Proper irrigation of standing crop is crucial for healthy harvest,” said a Met department official. However, the Cyclone Vayu, which brought heavy rainfall to parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, has prompted farmers in this region to plough their fields.

“Gujarat and Maharashtra have drought-like situation in most parts. This has led to lower production of groundnut and pulses. But the rains powered by Cyclone Vayu may provide enough moisture in the soil to start sowing. The ‘cyclonic rains,’ however, should be followed by monsoon rains soon for the sustenance,” said Rameshwar Lal Sharma, director, Agriculture Research and Development Institute.

Pulses output will be critical this Kharif season after lower production of lentils last year. The total pulses production in 2018-19 crop season was 23.22 million tonnes – down by 2.20 million tonnes from 25.42 million tonnes in 2017-18. “The annual requirement of pulses in the country is around 25 million tonnes. The shortfall in last year’s output will be compensated by previous year’s stocks. But if there is any shortfall this year, then the situation will be difficult,” said a senior agriculture department official.

The government has a stock of about 4 million tonnes of pulses to avert any price rise this year. It has also extended the import limit of pulses (Tur) from 2 lakh tonnes to 4 lakh tonnes to ease prices. The government also has a record stock of food grains close to 70 million tonnes in its warehouses, minimising the threat of a price rise.

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