Despite cyclones Tauktae and Yaas, respectively, hitting the western and eastern coasts in the second half of last month and bringing rains to main parts, farmers prefer to wait and watch before beginning Kharif sowing operations.

A group of farmers near Indore in Madhya Pradesh say that they would not begin sowing before June 20 and would prefer to get follow on showers before beginning Kharif farming operations.

The farmers agree that they have got some showers in May, thanks to Cyclone Tauktae impact, but they would not rush to begin farming operations.

Similar is the thought among farmers in Rajasthan. The farmers’ decision to wait and watch, in fact, seems to be sensible given the late start to South-West Monsoon and its initial phase lacking vigour.

Excess rainfall

According to Skymet weather, both cyclones had resulted in excess rainfall for the pre-monsoon period from March 1 to May 29.

GP Sharma, President, Meteorology and Climate Change at Skymet Weather, told BusinessLine that Gujarat got a phenomenal 1,078 per cent, Madhya Pradesh 293 per cent,Uttar Pradesh 206 per cent, and Maharashtra 110 per cent excess pre-monsoon rainfall.

But he came up with a caveat that farmers would have a good assessment of the next spell of rain after sowing and mere soil moisture alone would not do.

“At best, it can hold for a few days. It is very essential that they get this spell after a week or 10 days,” Sharma said.

Cyclone Tauktae also boosted pre-monsoon rainfall in Karnataka by increasing the overall precipitation in May by 53 per cent 44 per cent for the March 1-May 29 period. Rainfall during May in the Karnataka coastal region was higher by 177 per cent, in the Malnad region by 77 per cent and northern parts of the state by 47 per cent.

Reservoir levels

The increased rainfall spurred the farming activities such as land preparation and tilling, while giving a fillip to the sowing of kharif crops.

However, the cyclones have not helped improve the storage level in the 130 major reservoirs in the country. Data from the Central Water Commission show that the storage in the reservoirs is lower than last year. On Thursday, the water level in the reservoirs was 49.356 billion cubic metres (BCM) or 28 per cent of total live storage compared with 57.044 BCM or 33 per cent of the total live storage on Thursday.

According to BV Mehta, Executive Director, Solvent Extractors Association of India (SEA), the cyclones may help those who take up early sowing of oilseed crops such as groundnut.

Saurashtra, the groundnut bowl, was affected by cyclone Tauktae and normally farmers in Saurashtra get access to water through rain or canal. During Cyclone Tauktae, Saurashtra witnessed heavy winds, not heavy rains.

A dampener in Saurashtra

The excess rainfall rains and water-logging in the fields following cyclone Tauktae has dampened kharif sowing prospects in parts of Gujarat, particularly in Saurashtra and south Gujarat. Farmer sources said that more than the water-logging, power outages due to the cyclonic storm have disturbed kharif sowing of cotton and groundnut plans of the farmers.”The priority is to restore electricity for households in the villages. The power supply for agriculture is being restored gradually,” said an official of the power distribution company informed.This is causing a delay in the sowing of kharif crops, mainly cotton and groundnut. “At present the relief work is going on for the villagers. This has delayed the kharif sowing and we believe it will pick-up the pace towards the end of June,” said Vitthal Dudhatara, President – Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) – Gujarat region.

Farmers have initiated early sowing of groundnut, but so far there are no official figures on the onset of kharif sowing in Gujarat, a fair indication that Tauktae has not advanced the sowing in the State.

A different story

The story in Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, both affected by cyclone Yaas, is a wee bit different.

“We have some problems in coastal areas. So, we are trying to enumerate and restore the damage caused by the ingression of saline water from the sea. That is our concern. Otherwise, kharif sowing will be as per our plan,” said an official of the Bengal Department of Agriculture

Though the cyclone Yaas resulted in extensive rains in some parts of Andhra Pradesh, farmers don’t have any plans to advance the kharif sowings. “Sowings generally start after June 15 in the Godavari delta areas and in the subsequent few weeks in other parts of the State,” Keshava Rao, President of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham, said.

However, groundnut farmers of Rayalaseema have begun sowings in areas under borewells.

“We begin work on the fields in the third week of June whether or not monsoon arrives,” Ch Purnachandra Rao, a Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh) farmer said.

Karnataka, Maharashtra

In Karnataka, sowing of key kharif crops such as cotton, groundnut, green gram and maize among others have begun in Karnataka. According to officials in the Karnataka State Agriculture Department, kharif crops have been sown in about 3.05 lakh hectares (lh) till May 31 this year compared with 2.96 lh in the same period last year.

With the onset of monsoon, sowing activities are set to pick up in the days ahead as farmers are seen preparing for the new planting season. Karnataka is targeting an area of 77 lakh hectare during the kharif season eyeing a food production of 135 lakh tonnes.

In Maharashtra, farmers in the coastal region are still recovering from the effects of cyclone Tauktae.

The State government has announced that it will pay Rs 50,000 per hectare as compensation for the loss suffered by farmers in the affected districts, including Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Raigad, Mumbai, Thane and Palghar.

Other parts in the State have received good pre-monsoon showers and farmers are gearing up for early sowing. As reports of sowing operations are coming from some parts of the State, the State Agriculture Department has appealed to farmers not to go for early sowing as it might result in failure in germination due to insufficient soil moisture.

“Farmers should not go in for sowing till the region receives 80-100 mm rainfall. Sowing operations in the areas where soil moisture is less would result in crop failure and it would result in seeds getting wasted. Soil moisture will be good for sowing only after 80-100 mm rains,” the Agriculture Department said.

In the last kharif season, soyabean growers and seed companies were at loggerheads because seeds failed to germinate. Farmers claimed they were supplied bad quality seeds, but seed companies argued that soya seeds must be sown only after 77 to 100 mm rainfall.

Last year early rains started because of the cyclone Nisarga and farmers sowed even before sufficient rainfall, according to seed companies.

Skymet’s Sharma says two cyclones on both coasts were quite unseasonal for India in May.

Exceptions to farmers waiting for rains could farmers in Punjab or Haryana. “Farmers there don’t wait for the monsoon to begin sowing. They have assured ground water or reservoirs to take up sowing, so they can harvest the crop as early as September,” says Sharma.

Also, the wait and watch by a majority of the farmers in the country is because the agriculture bowl of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in central India; and Punjab, Haryana and parts of north Rajasthan in North-West India do not directly get impacted from a cyclone, he adds.

With contributions from Vinayak, Mangaluru; Vishwanath Kulkarani, Bengaluru; TV Jayan, New Delhi; KV Kurmanath, Hyderabad; Shobha Roy, Kolkata; Rutam Vora, Ahmedabad; Radheshyam Jadhav, Pune, and Subramani Ra Mancombu, Chennai

(This is part of a series of Kharif Outlook reports that have been appearing in these columns. The reports will continue to appear over the next few days.)

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