Farmers plant more area under pulses, move away from Bt cotton

The agriculture ministry says an area of 12.1 million hectares has been planted with pulses, over 11% more than the five-year average sown under the crop


The agriculture ministry says sowing of pulses is nearly 35% more, 12.1 million hectares as against 8.97 million hectares in 2015-16. Photo: Mint
The agriculture ministry says sowing of pulses is nearly 35% more, 12.1 million hectares as against 8.97 million hectares in 2015-16. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: Buoyed by good rains and higher prices, farmers across India have planted a record area under different varieties of pulses, shows data released by the agriculture ministry on Friday. So far, an area of 12.1 million hectares has been planted with pulses, over 11% more than the five-year average sown under the crop.

While these numbers could rise as the data is updated in the coming weeks, compared to year-ago figures, sowing of pulses is nearly 35% more—12.1 million hectares as against 8.97 million hectares in 2015-16.

While area under pulses touched a record high, sowing of cotton is down 12.6% compared to normal on fears of pest infestation, the data shows. So far, an area of 9.65 million hectares has been planted under cotton, compared to 10.57 million hectares planted by this time last year.

Interestingly, the data shows that while area under the genetically modified Bt cotton fell from 9.7 million hectares in 2015-16 to 8 million hectares in 2016-17, area under non-Bt desi (indigenous) cotton rose from 0.88 million hectares to 1.66 million hectares during this period.

The reasons for the reduction in area under cotton during the current year are the fear of whitefly infestation in Punjab and Haryana and pink boll worm in central and southern India, said a note from the agriculture ministry.

On pulses, the data shows that farmers in states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have planted a record area under arhar or pigeon pea—a variety that touched Rs.200 a kg in retail markets a few months ago and is still selling at over Rs.140 a kg. A rise in prices of pulses and its impact on food inflation has been a cause of concern for the Centre.

The government took a number of steps such as import of pulses, raising their support prices and creation of a buffer stock of 2 million tonnes to keep prices under control.

It expects production of pulses to come in at 20 million tonnes in 2016-17, over 21% higher than the 16.47 million tonnes estimated for 2015-16. Two consecutive droughts in 2014 and 2015 reduced production of pulses, mostly grown as a rain-fed crop, by over 11% between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

Overall, the data on rain-fed kharif sowing shows that crops like rice, coarse grains, pulses, oilseeds, sugarcane and cotton has been planted in an area of 88.5 million hectares, about 5.2% higher than the area sown by this time last year.

While rice has been sown in 28.2 million hectares so far, marginally higher than the 27.6 million hectares sown by this time last year, coarse grains have been sown in 16.4 million hectares, higher than the 15.9 million hectares sown by this time last year.

Maize, which falls under coarse grains, has seen a 13% rise in sowing compared to last year, the data shows. Sowing of oilseeds is also higher by about 6.3%—from 15.7 million hectares last year to 16.7 million hectares this year.

The better-than-normal progress of sowing this year is due to ample rains across India. Data from state-run India Meteorological Department shows that the rainfall recorded till Friday in the ongoing south-west monsoon season is in excess of normal by 2%. Over 80% of India’s area has received normal to excess rainfall so far, the data shows.

Ample rains have also boosted the storage levels in major reservoirs across the country. The water storage available in 91 major reservoirs of the country for the week ending 4 August was 45% of total capacity, up from a low of 17% at the beginning of the monsoon in June.

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