Maharashtra may see shift in cultivation towards foodgrains

Farmers may turn to cereals, pulses as commercial crops are becoming unviable due to high input costs


Expectations of a normal monsoon and the state government’s support for cultivation of pulses are also reasons for the possible shift. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Expectations of a normal monsoon and the state government’s support for cultivation of pulses are also reasons for the possible shift. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

In the kharif season beginning mid-June, farmers in Maharashtra are likely to grow more foodgrains—pulses and cereals—than previous years, signalling a gradual shift in cultivation pattern from commercial crops, according to farm sector experts and officials of the state farm department.

Commercial crops are increasingly becoming unviable for farmers due to high input costs for crops such as cotton and soybean and uncertainty over the likely rise in the minimum support price (MSP) for crops like cotton.

Forecast of a normal monsoon ahead and the state government’s support for cultivation of pulses in the wake of its acute shortage in the country are also reasons for this likely shift.

The state cultivated foodgrain in 5.3 million hectares in the kharif season of 2015-16. Oilseeds were grown across 4 million hectares, with soybean also being cultivated in 3.7 million hectares, according to the Maharashtra agriculture department and state economic survey 2015-16.

In the upcoming season, the area under foodgrain cultivation may rise by another 2 million hectares with toor dal (pigeon peas) accounting for a major share of this growth, according to the estimates of Pune-based Agriculture Commissionerate and farm sector experts.

Maharashtra is the largest producer of toor dal, the principle source of protein in a vegetarian diet in India. The state produces nearly 28% of the national output with Latur and Hingoli districts in Marathwada and Akola district in Vidarbha producing the lion’s share. The other preferred crop this sowing season will be pulses like mung dal (green gram) and urad dal (black gram), said farm sector experts.

“The planning process for the kharif season lays emphasis on encouraging farmers to grow pulses as we have a national shortage. We encouraged pulses in 2015-16 also and launched a special subsidy scheme for pulses and oilseeds under the National Food Security Mission. This year, the scheme has been allotted Rs.250 crore to provide subsidy to farmers on purchase of seeds if they are going in for pulses and oilseeds,” said state’s commissioner of agriculture Vikas Deshmukh.

The state government has projected a total cropped area of 15.2 million hectares for the 2016-17 kharif season compared to 13.3 million hectares in the previous season.

The Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of the state will lead the shift in cultivation from commercial crops such as cotton and soybean to foodgrains, said Vijay Jawandhiya, farm activist and cotton farmer in Vidarbha’s Wardha district.

“I think three major factors are driving farmers here away from cotton and soybean. There is a speculation that the MSP for cotton would be increased only by Rs.60 per quintal this year. Such a marginal increase barely factors in the high input cost, including the cost of Bt seeds, irrigation, and labour,” said Jawandhiya, adding that there is similar speculation for soybean too.

“Since there is a forecast of a normal monsoon this year, regions like Marathwada and South Maharashtra may not witness shortage of fodder for livestock. This may push down the price of cotton seed cakes used as livestock fodder. Thirdly, farmers are getting signals from market that prices of pulses could see an upward revision,” Jawandhiya said.

The MSP for cotton in India has seen only a marginal rise since 2012-13. The MSP of medium staple cotton increased from Rs.3,600 per quintal in 2012-13 to Rs.3,700 in 2013-14. The MSP of long staple cotton rose from Rs.3,900 to Rs.4,000 in 2013-14.

In 2014-15 and 2015-16, the MSP for both the varieties of cotton were raised by Rs.50 per quintal per year. In 2015-16, when the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) raised the MSP of cotton by Rs.50 per quintal, it said the MSP covered the cost of cultivation, implying that it did not bring major profits to the farmers.

“The MSP of cotton has been stagnant over a period of four years now. However, the input cost has shot up making cotton unviable,” said Vidarbha-based farm leader Kishore Tiwari, who also heads the state government’s Farm Distress Management Task Force.

The task force had recently recommended that cultivation of “water guzzling crops” like Bt cotton and sugarcane must be banned in the state. “We have set a target of bringing at least 2 million hectares under foodgrains in this kharif season. But the real incentive here for farmers to go in for foodgrains would be a steep upward revision in the MSP for pulses, especially toor dal,” Tiwari said.

In 2015-16, the CACP fixed the MSP of toor dal at Rs.4,625 per quintal, including Rs.200 as bonus. The MSP for toor has also seen marginal increase over the last four years—from Rs.3,850 in 2012-13 to Rs.4,300 in 2013-14.

There was an increase of Rs.50 in 2014-15 and the CACP initially recommended an MSP of Rs.4,425 in 15-16 but fixed it at Rs.4,625, including bonus.

However, area under toor dal in Maharashtra fell from 1.2 million hectares in 2014-15 to little more than 1 million hectares in 2015-16 due to low rainfall and marginal increase in MSP.

The farm lobby as well as company executives want the MSP for toor dal raised to at least Rs.8,000 per quintal this year.

Nitin Kalantri, owner of Kalantri Food Products which runs eight dal mills in Latur, said the MSP for toor should be increased to Rs.9,000 per quintal.

“Farmers are already moving away from sugarcane and cotton due to their high input cost. In Marathwada there is a major shift towards pulses including toor, mung, and urad. The government should support this shift in cropping pattern by price inventive. We anyway are deficient in the yields of pulses,” Kalantri said.

He added that a good MSP along with timely and well-spread monsoon could lead to retail prices of pulses settling at Rs.100 or even less in 2016-17. The retail price currently is between Rs.145 and Rs.160 per kg.

As foodgrain cultivation rises, cultivation of crops like cotton may slide.

M.G. Shembekar, managing director of Nagpur-based Ankur Seeds Pvt. Ltd, one of the 49 seed companies in the state licensed by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd to sell its patented Bt cotton hybrids, also foresees a drop in acreage under cotton.

“In a normal season seed companies typically sell between 15 and 16 million packets (450 gm each) of various hybrids in Maharashtra. I expect this to come down to 13 million packets this year. Even in other parts of India like Punjab, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh, sales of Bt cotton sees may see a 5% to 20% drop,” Shembekar said.

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