Driest August since 1901 – what it means for agriculture in India

Driest August since 1901 – what it means for agriculture in India

The 36 percent rainfall deficit last month has cast a shadow on crop output. Poor vegetative growth and pest infestation are already affecting crops.

With rainfed agriculture accounting for 51 percent of India’s sown area and 40 percent of food production, a steep monsoon rain deficit this year is likely to adversely affect crop yields, experts said.

Farmers were already struggling with the delayed onset of the southwest monsoon. After heavy showers and a 13 percent surplus rainfall in July, a strengthening El Nino disrupted the India Meteorological Department’s predictions in August, which ended with a 36 percent deficit in rainfall. That made it the driest August since 1901.

While experts said rainfall levels in the next few days will be critical for crops, the unusually dry spell has impacted major agricultural areas such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, eastern UP, Jharkhand, Bihar, Gujarat and parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Cotton, which needs moisture, is being infested by pests like white fly and thrips in Rajasthan, according to Pushan Sharma, director – research, Crisil Market Intelligence and Analytics. In Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the crop was in a vegetative state because planting was delayed.


Low-yield conditions

“More rainfall in these states is leading to stunted growth of crops, lesser branching and early incidences of infections being reported, which are likely to reduce yield to some extent,” Sharma said.

In the case of coarse cereal crops like bajra in Rajasthan, flowering and grain filling is expected to be impacted, which will lead to lower yield. In Telangana and Karnataka, Crisil’s interactions showed maize crops were drying up, which would be detrimental to yield, Sharma said. In red gram or arhar, growth was found to be adversely impacted.

“Flower setting is likely to be quite low this season, which will lead to adverse impact on seeds,” Sharma added.

According to him, oilseeds too have been affected with incidences of flower drop (flowers falling prematurely before they can develop into mature fruits or seeds) in soyabean reported in Maharashtra and groundnut crops facing rot, leading to heavy infestation in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Disease and flower drop were observed in the case of chilli and tomato in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh areas, Sharma added. For paddy, the main kharif crop, while the cultivated area was about 4 percent higher than last year’s level, it was 4 percent lower than the five-year average.

“We are working with a low base when it comes to crop sowing this year as last year’s sowing was heavily impacted due to unseasonal weather events. Overall acreage has decreased by 384 hectares, a 4 percent drop from the previous five-year average,” said Indra Shekhar Singh, an independent agri-policy analyst.

However, Crisil’s Sharma doesn’t expect problems with paddy output.

“We do not see paddy yield going down from its sown area this year,” he said.

Crucial period

With most crops taking a hit in the past month, IMD’s prediction of a normal rainfall in September has become crucial. The lengthy dry spell led to extremely low soil moisture, which could inhibit growth of crops.

“Crops are in dire need of rainfall in the next seven days and any further delay will affect the already impacted output significantly,” said Sanjay Gupta, managing director of National Commodities Management Services. “There are worries in Bihar-Jharkhand where standing paddy crops will face issues if it doesn’t rain soon. Short-duration crops like soyabean in MP and Maharashtra along with pulses and cotton in Telangana, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh will be severely impacted in the absence of rainfall.”

If the weather is dry for another month, tillering – sprouting of plant shoots – is expected to be low, leading to a drop in yield, according to Crisil.

“If dry conditions persist in southern states for the next 15-20 days, farmers are likely to uproot the cotton crop and go for early sowing of maize, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Additionally, in a few pockets of Maharashtra and Karnataka, farmers are likely to uproot the tur crop, following stunted crop growth, and go for early sowing of rabi jowar,” it said.

While IMD has predicted normal rainfall in September, it is difficult to say how they could be affected by strengthening El Nino conditions, which are said to be capable of disrupting weather patterns.

The monsoon continued to be weak in the first week of September, leading to an increase in the pan-India rainfall deficit. Rainfall in the northwest, central and eastern regions has been largely deficient and only the southern peninsula region received excess rainfall, particularly Telangana.

According to a Barclay assessment released on September 8, the country’s rainfall level since June 1 is 11 percent below the long period average.

“All four major regions are now facing deficit rainfall, and with IMD’s forecast for ‘below normal’ rainfall for most parts of the country in September (barring the eastern region), the rainfall deficit may not be reversed completely in the rest of the season,” it said.

“Sowing happened due to excessive rainfall that arrived late. Farmers were thinking rain will be good and planted accordingly, but now, when plants need rain, there is only hard sun, blue skies and no clouds,” Singh pointed out. “This will lead to a fall in output.”

Several crops believed to be under duress already face inflationary pressure. India’s retail inflation accelerated to a 15-month high of 7.44 percent in July. The data showed a 13 percent increase in the prices of rice and pulses. Within pulses, inflation was the highest at 34.1 percent for tur, followed by 9.1 percent for moong and 7.9 percent for urad.

In July, coarse cereals inflation was at 11.5 percent, with the highest rise of 16.8 percent for jowar and 9.6 percent for maize. With the outlook of falling yields, Crisil estimates food inflation could stay high for a couple of months.

“Government intervention (releasing food stocks, facilitating imports, and restricting hoarding) and fresh crop arrivals should provide some relief. But rain-related havoc can limit the downside to inflation,” Crisil said in its monthly report. Given this food inflation hump, Crisil recently increased its retail inflation forecast for August to 5.5 percent from 5 percent estimated earlier.

Global food security

India is the world’s biggest supplier of rice, with a 40 percent share. The US Department of Agriculture said global food security risks are becoming significant due to extreme weather events, especially in the South Asia sub-region, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

“Natural hazards from weather events, including La Niña and El Niño, are impacting agricultural activities, thereby reducing food availability through crop and livestock losses. The combination of extreme weather events and the ongoing Russian military invasion of Ukraine also led to changes in trade policies across countries, including bans, taxes, and quota restrictions on the export and import of agricultural products, thereby affecting food availability,” it said.

Content Source – Driest August since 1901 – what it means for agriculture in India (moneycontrol.com)

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