From Deficient To Excess: Unseasonal Rains Damage Farm Sector Prospects
Rice grows in a waterlogged field of farmland in the Bhagpat district of Uttar Pradesh, India, on Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

From Deficient To Excess: Unseasonal Rains Damage Farm Sector Prospects

For Indian farmers coping with stagnating agricultural wages, a good monsoon was supposed to bring relief. Instead, the pattern of uneven and off-season rains has disrupted sowing and harvesting, leading to damaged crops and increased strains for farmers in many parts of the country.

In 2019, for the first time in 88 years, the south-west monsoon was in excess of the ‘long period average’, even though rainfall was 30 percent deficient till June, according to the India Meteorological Department. The south-west monsoons officially ended in September with excess rainfall of over 10 percent. Post-monsoon rainfall is running an excess of 38 percent compared to the long-period average, show IMD data from October till Nov. 8, 2019.

States Worst Hit

The states which have received excess rainfall during the official south-west monsoon period include Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. But heavy rains have continued even after.

Post monsoon rainfall was in excess in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. It was in ‘large excess’ in most of central India, including Odisha, Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, show IMD data.

This unusual rainfall pattern has meant that states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal, which have the highest agricultural output by value, have seen damage to crops.

According to GP Sharma, vice president of meteorology at Skymet Weather Services, farmers were advised to delay sowing of crops due to the expectation of a late start to the monsoons. Then rainfalls were in excess. “Farmers were indecisive over when and what, leading to a situation of huge losses,” Sharma told BloombergQuint.

The deluge in central parts of India and especially in drought prone states such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, has created lots of variance in patterns and led to a situation where loss is likely to be substantial.
GP Sharma, Vice President, Meteorology, Skymet Weather Services

A crop damage analysis by Skymet, which covered agricultural activity till September showed that Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar were the worst hit due to unseasonal rains.

In Madhya Pradesh, the largest producer of soybean, 40-50 percent of the crop has been damaged and the quality has also suffered. Soil moisture escalated to 60-90 percent in most parts of the state in September and at some places, it was close to 95 percent, depicting widespread loss of crops, the report stated. If soil moisture is persistently above 50 percent in any region, then it signifies the presence of inundation and in such cases, crop loss is certain, explained the Skymet report.

In Maharashtra, sugarcane, cotton, rice, soybean, tur dal, groundnut were among the worst hit on over 4 lakh hectares of land. Yield and quality of crops were adversely affected in Gujarat and Karnataka, the report said. Parts of Assam, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana were subjected to moderate floods.

Impact On Farm Output

The first advance estimates released by the Ministry of Agriculture as on Sept. 23, 2019, do not reflect these disruptions in output. Though data for food grains and commercial crops, remains unavailable post September, high frequency indicators for major horticultural items such as potatoes, onions and tomatoes, shows that output has fallen, accompanied with a rise in prices.

All India arrivals of onions at wholesale markets dropped to about 8 lakh tonnes in October 2019, the lowest in about two years, according to data by the horticulture statistics division of the ministry of agriculture. Area sown is down by 7 percent over last year.

While some damage in kharif onion crop has occurred due to heavy rains in September and October in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and in Andhra Pradesh, the crop in Maharashtra is ready for harvest but delayed due to continuous rains, explained to latest report from the government’s horticulture department. Maharashtra accounts for over about a third of the onion production in the country.

In the case of tomatoes, arrivals dropped to about 3.5 lakh tonnes in October 2019, lower than 4.4 lakh tonnes in the same month last year. Area sown was around 12 percent lower than the previous year as heavy rains damaged crops in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka and impacted harvesting in Maharashtra, as per the horticulture department’s report.

All India arrivals of potatoes at wholesale markets dropped to about 8.1 lakh tonnes in October 2019. In line with trends in other vegetables, potato arrivals, too, remained significantly lower than last year.

The reduced output has meant a sudden spike in prices of these commodities.

Onion prices jumped to Rs 3,433 per quintal compared with Rs 1,375 per quintal in January. For tomatoes, prices have moved up from Rs 1,811 per quintal to Rs 2,862 over the same period. The increase has been more modest in the case of potatoes, where prices have increased to Rs 1,338 per quintal last month from Rs 1,025 at the start of the year.

As for November, high frequency price data available to date does not yet show any signs of seasonal cooling in November, said Rahul Bajoria, chief India economist at Barclays, in a note dated Nov. 13, 2019. The extended monsoon has led to a delay in crop arrivals in wholesale markets. This is especially visible in perishables such as potatoes, onions and tomatoes, where crop arrivals at Mandis have lagged past year trends, he said.

This could mean that retail food inflation, which touched a 39-month high in October, may remain elevated for the next few months.

Also read: Monsoon’s Late Surge Helps, But Floods Hurt Crop Prospects

The new source of stress has prompted representatives of the farm sector to seek relief.

The destruction is tremendous with no crops spared in states like Maharashtra, said Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha, a farmers’ collective. With official assessments taking tremendous time, crop insurance, too, is unlikely to bring relief, he said.

The rural employment guarantee scheme, which would have provided employment, has seen limitations due to the government’s disinterest, he said. Farmers often migrate in search of better work opportunities but given the ongoing industrial slowdown, even that is unlikely now, Dhawale said.

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