Prospects of a bumper summer crop seem brighter as the sowing activity is fast drawing to a close in most regions of relevance in the country’s agriculture map. While the monsoon rains overall have so far been marginally above normal (long period average), the distribution pattern hasn’t played spoilsport either, with the key regions receiving adequate precipitation or only marginal deficiency. Some of the rain-deficient regions turned out to be amply irrigated ones, allaying the worries, if any, even further.
Of course, at a granular level, the data shows a shift to certain crops like cotton, maize and groundnut, in some deficient regions. This is apparently because farmers found these crops more suitable to their soil and potentially more remunerative. Also visible is a big jump in acreage of some crops, notably cotton (Telangana) and ragi (Karnataka), in areas that witnessed an abundance of precipitation during this monsoon season.
A normal monsoon with fairly good dispersion augurs well for the country’s agriculture sector and the rural economy at large, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has brought most economic activities to a standstill and the revival seems slow and scattered. Of course, whether and how much a robust crop will translate into rural income will also be function of price. The farmers are being aided by a number of reforms aimed at improving their market access and bargaining strength.
Last year, the robust seasonal monsoon rainfall led to 3.7% increase in food grains output to a record 295.7 million tonne during 2019-20 crop year (July-June). Floods occurred in many parts due to heavy rainfall in September, but these ended up aiding the rabi-grown crops creating adequate soil moisture.
Punjab, which has received rainfall 13% below average so far this season, has been able to acquit itself well as it is 100% irrigated and sowing figures of key crops — paddy, cotton and maize – are at par with the year-ago level, at around 35 lakh hectares. The marginal shortfall in paddy acreage in the state has been offset with higher areas under cotton and maize, the two crops the state government has been promoting as rational alternatives for water- guzzling rice.
In Gujarat, the seasonal rainfall deficit in 22 districts (other than Saurashtra and Kutch region) was 10% until August 17 which has now narrowed down to 5%. Still, 5 out of 22 districts have recorded rainfall deficit of 20% or more. This deficit has impacted cotton planting, which dropped by 13% to 22.7 lakh hectare until last week.
However, 45% surplus rains in Telangana have boosted the cotton acreage in the state to a record high of 23.5 lakh hectare, up by 37% from year-ago. The overall cotton sowing across the country increased 3.2% to 125.5 lakh hectare.
Groundnut sowing in Gujarat has increased by 34% to 20.5 lakh hectare against year-ago as the main growing belt of Saurashtra along with Kutch region has received 77% above normal rains, so far. The acreage under this oilseed crop is also up by 36% at 7.2 lakh hectare in Rajasthan, the second-largest producer after Gujarat.
The sowing coverage under all the major kharif crops in Rajasthan such as jowar, bajra, moong and groundnut is up from year-ago levels even though 18 out of the state’s 33 districts are facing rainfall deficiency of 20% or more while the state as a whole has 14% below normal monsoon since the season started from June 1. As the state is a top producer of many crops, any sowing shortfall could result in a fall in their production.
Sowing area under guar, a hardy crop that does not need much rains, has slipped in Rajasthan by 11% at 23.89 lakh hectare as some of the major growing districts like Barmer, Bikaner, Ganganagar and Hanumangarh have received 24-44% lower than normal rains. “The sowing of guar can still take place if there is improvement in rains in next 10 days,” said a state government official. Guar sowing in the other producing state Gujarat is up by 4% at 1.09 lakh hectare and it is only 65% of the state’s normal area under the legume crop.
Paddy sowing, up by 14% at 352 lakh hectare as of August 14 pan-India, is progressing well and so far covered 89% of the season’s normal area. In West Bengal, the largest producer of rice, the sowing is up 11.5% at 38 lakh hectare as monsoon in the state is 1% above normal until now. Only four out of 19 districts have reported deficient rainfall (24-44% below normal) and paddy production may marginally get affected because of two major producing districts — West Medinipur and East Medinipur — have lower precipitation.
In Karnataka, a leading producer of maize, ragi, jowar, tur and sugarcane, all the districts have had normal or excess rains while the state as a whole has reported 20% above normal rainfall. The on-going sowing area under maize, ragi, jowar, tur and sugarcane increased by 11.5% at 32.2 lakh hectare till last week, potentially improving yield and suggesting a bumper harvest.
Normal monsoon boosted gross value added (GVA) in the farm–and-allied sector in Q4 last fiscal, as it emerged the second fastest-growing segment with 5.9% expansion, an eight-quarter high. The farm sector has witnessed a roller-coaster ride in recent years, with GVA growth ranging from -0.2% in FY15 to 6.8% in FY17.