New Delhi: A warm winter preceded by a drought has played spoilsport for sowing of winter crops such as wheat, pulses and oilseeds.

Data released by the farm ministry on Friday show that rabi (winter) crops have been planted so far in 56.5 million hectares, 3% lower than the 58.2 million hectares sown by this time last year.

Worryingly, as the window for planting is nearing an end, tracts across many states may remain unplanted this winter.

Further, for the primary rabi crop of wheat, late sowing and warmer temperatures could mean a loss in yield.

The data on planting shows that wheat has been planted so far in 28.2 million hectares, nearly 6% lower than the 29.9 million hectares sown by this time last year.

While seasonal area under the wheat crop is 30 million hectares, together with pulses, oilseeds and coarse grains the total rabi area is about 63 million hectares.

Planting of winter crops starts by October and harvesting begins from January.

The data further show that planting is lower in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh that grow the cereal crop under rain-fed conditions in some areas.

For instance, about 9.1 million hectares were planted in Uttar Pradesh till 7 January, the lowest for any year since 2010.

By this time last year, 9.7 million hectares had been planted in the state.

Similarly, for Madhya Pradesh, planting is at its lowest since 2011. If wheat yields are affected this year, it will be the second consecutive year of meagre harvest.

Unseasonal rains just ahead of the spring harvest in March and April of 2015 led to a 7% decline in wheat production (in 2014-15), compared with the previous year.

However, allaying fears of a loss in wheat yield, agriculture secretary Siraj Hussain said there wan’t any reason for panic.

“We hope in the next 2-3 days, the temperature will come down," he said, adding that the government was closely monitoring the situation.

Winter crops are sown with the residual moisture in the soil after kharif crops are harvested, and dry soil and the delayed onset of winter has meant lower sowing.

While the June to September south-west monsoon in 2015 recorded a deficit of 14%, with as many as 10 states declaring a drought, the sowing of winter crops has also been affected by a deficient north-east monsoon, particularly in northern and central India.

Data for other crops sown during the winter show that oilseeds have been planted in 7.4 million hectares so far, 3.8% lower than the 7.7 million hectares sown by this time last year.

Pulses have been planted so far in 13.4 million hectares, marginally lower than last year, but 4% lower than the normal area by this time of the year.

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