Planting of wheat crop 19.6% lower than normal

The gap in wheat sowing has narrowed from nearly 42% a week ago despite fears that the cash crunch following the government’s demonetisation move will affect farming

Till Friday, wheat had been planted in 7.9 million hectares, compared with the normal area of 9.8 million hectares. Photo: HT
Till Friday, wheat had been planted in 7.9 million hectares, compared with the normal area of 9.8 million hectares. Photo: HT

New Delhi: Planting of the main winter crop of wheat is lagging behind in terms of the area normally covered by this time of the year, data released by the agriculture ministry on Friday shows.

The area planted with wheat so far this year is around 20% less than normal for this time of the year. But the sowing of gram and mustard is 47% and 4% above normal, respectively, according to the data.

However, the data also shows the gap in wheat sowing narrowed over the past week despite fears that the cash crunch following demonetisation of high-value currency notes would affect sowing, with farmers struggling to buy seeds and fertilizers.

Till Friday, wheat had been planted in 7.9 million hectares, compared with the normal area of 9.8 million hectares, a gap of 19.6%. A week ago, on 11 November, the gap was nearly 42%.

India demonetized its higher denomination banknotes of Rs500 and Rs1,000 on 8 November.

“Besides problems of buying inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, farmers in western Uttar Pradesh are facing difficulties in harvesting sugarcane and sowing wheat as they do not have the cash to pay labourers,” said Dharmendra Malik, state spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, a farmers’ body.

However, an official with the agriculture ministry, who did not want to be named, said while farmers may be experiencing difficulties following demonetisation, the impact of the move on sowing will only become clear in the coming weeks. “The data comes with a lag of 7-10 days and it will be early to draw a conclusion,” the official said.

According to official data, the area sown under wheat so far is marginally higher than last year’s 7.8 million hectares. However, last year saw delayed and lower planting of wheat due to the acute drought situation.

Overall, the wheat crop is sown in over 30 million hectares. Ideally, the crop is to be planted by mid- to end-November and a delay means lower yields.

Data on planting of chana, or gram, the primary winter pulse crop, shows a 47.4% higher area compared with normal, likely due to higher retail prices in the past few months. So far, an area of 5.37 million hectares has been planted, compared with the normal area of 3.64 million hectares.

Similarly, the main winter oilseed crop of mustard has been planted in 5 million hectares, higher than the normal area of 4.9 million hectares by this time of the year.

The total area planted under chana and mustard during the winter crop season is 8.8 million hectares and 6.3 million hectares, respectively.

The numbers may not show the distress farmers are going through as they seldom leave their fields fallow, said Devinder Sharma, a Chandigarh-based food policy analyst.

“Demonetisation has come as a double whammy for farmers. While the prices of their kharif and perishable harvests are falling as wholesale trade has nosedived due to the cash crunch, they are running from pillar to post to arrange inputs and labour for the rabi sowing,” Sharma said, adding, “this is crippling the rural economy and sucking out the gains from the normal monsoon this year.”

Overall, the winter crops of cereals, pulses and oilseeds have been sown in 24.2 million hectares, 4.5% lower than the 25.3 million hectares usually planted by this time of the year. The seasonal area under rabi crops is 63.8 million hectares. Rabi is an irrigation-dependent winter crop, planting for which begins in October and harvesting happens from March onwards.

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