New Delhi: Following a collapse in wholesale prices of rain-fed pulses like arhar and moong over the past six months, farmers across India have reduced planting of these varieties, data on Kharif sowing released by the agriculture ministry on Friday shows. Simultaneously, farmers have planted more of cotton and sugarcane, compared with the year-ago period, the data shows.

If these early trends persist as planting picks up pace with the progress of monsoon over the next one month, India could witness lower production of pulses and once again a spike in imports. A record crop in 2016-17 led to a collapse in wholesale prices and fuelled farmers’ protests in states such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, among others.

Farm ministry data showed that until Friday, farmers had planted 5.97 lakh hectares under different pulse varieties, compared with 9 lakh hectares planted by this time last year, a 34% drop in planting area.

For arhar (pigeon pea), which farmers sold at rates substantially lower than government-announced support prices in 2016-17, the area sown is 70% less than last year’s, while for moong, planting is lower by 25%.

To be sure, these are still early days. Pulses are usually planted in 10.5 million hectares, and the five-year average area under pulses by this time of the year is just 5.2 lakh hectares. Sowing of monsoon-dependent Kharif crops begins in June and continues through July.

Overall, the data shows that different Kharif crops, including rice and coarse grains, have been planted in 13 million hectares so far, close to 10% higher than the 11.9 million hectares planted by this time last year. So far, planting of cotton is 30% higher than last year while area under sugarcane is higher by 6%.

The data further shows that while planting of coarse grains is 22% higher than as-on-date five year averages (2010-11 to 2015-16), it is 15% lower for oilseeds such as soybean and sunflower. Farmers sold both varieties at less than government announced support prices in 2016-17, even as import of cheap edible oil grew during the year. India currently imports 70% of its edible oil consumption, mostly from countries in South East Asia and Latin America.

During the Kharif crop season farmers plant around 106 million hectares under different crops, and higher-than-normal planting is expected this year as the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast that the June-to-September south-west monsoon will bring 98% of the normal or long-period (50-year) average rains.

According to IMD, until Friday, India had seen 111.8 mm of rainfall (1-23 June), marginally higher than normal (110.8 mm). Conditions are favourable for the monsoon to advance and cover states like Maharashtra, Bihar, and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in the next few days, the forecaster said on Friday.

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