02/04/2015 4:57 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Unseasonal Rains Hit Farmers Hard As Fruits, Wheat Crops Damaged

NARINDER NANU via Getty Images
Indian labourers bail accumulated rainwater near flooded sacks of wheat after unseasonal overnight rains soaked the area at a grain distribution point in Amritsar on May 13, 2014. Punjab is India's largest wheat producing state, contributing nearly 70 percent of the national total. Farmers in Punjab state have incurred huge losses as unseasonal rainfall damaged wheat crops, washing away prospects of a bumper production. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

The damage caused to the standing wheat and fruit crop by unseasonal rains in the past four to six weeks has started to hit home, with farmers in these states saying that they will not be able to recover from the loss any time soon.

As if the fury of the rainfall in February and early March was not enough, another spell of rainfall in late March, coupled with strong winds and hailstorms, has added to the damage caused to the standing crops in states like Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

While the wheat crop in Punjab and Haryana that was to be harvested later this month has been damaged, the mango and strawberry crop in Maharashtra and the apple crop in Himachal Pradesh has been severely affected.

The wheat procurement process in Punjab and Haryana, which officially begins on April 1, is likely to be delayed as the crop has still not ripened for harvesting.

In Haryana and Punjab, agriculture experts feel that the damage to the crop could be up to 25 percent till mid-March itself. The rainfall and strong winds in March-end have added to the woes of farmers.

"The crop that has been damaged cannot be recovered. The crop, which is still standing will also not be of much use as it will have a higher moisture content and procurement agencies will be unwilling to purchase it," agriculturist Amar Singh Sandhu of Moga district told IANS.

Scientists at the Haryana Agriculture University (HAU), Hisar, and Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, have said that the quality of grain in the wheat crop this season will be poor.

"The grain will have high moisture content. It will not be good for long-term storage," a senior scientist at HAU told IANS on the phone from Hisar.

And there will be no respite from the unfavourable weather conditions in the coming days too.

Weather department officials in Chandigarh said that western disturbances could lead to more rain over the northern region in the next few days.

The worries for the farmers - and the affected states - are that the central government, as per existing rules, does not chip in with compensation for the damaged crops if it is less than 50 percent.

"In case of Punjab and Haryana, the damage was up to 25 percent till mid-March. Fresh assessment is being done to find out the extent of damage to crops," a senior officer of the Punjab agriculture department, told IANS in Chandigarh, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

In Maharashtra, the two fruits of pride - mangoes and strawberries - have been drastically hit due to regular bouts of unseasonal rains in different parts of the state.

The damage has happened at the peak cropping and plucking season, industry stakeholders said.

"Nearly 60 percent of the mango crop has been hit by twin spells of heavy rains, one during Diwali (last October) which hit flowering and in March which hit the ready crop that was to be plucked after a few days," Fruit Growers Welfare Association chief Balasaheb Bhende told IANS in Mumbai.

Compared to an estimated 45,000 tonnes of mango crop from the state, the final season's tally (in July) may barely touch 25,000 tonnes, he rued.

The worst-hit is the famous alphonso of Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district. The rains have resulted in anthracnose disease, which blots the raw fruit and rots it before it ripens.

"Even strawberry has been at the receiving end of rains and hailstorms at different times during the cropping season from November to February," Strawberry Growers Association of India President Balasaheb Bhilare told IANS in Mumbai, adding that the production will be less than 50 percent this time.

Consequently, the prices of both mangoes and strawberries have hit the roof in major markets like Mumbai and Pune.

The juicy apples from hill state Himachal Pradesh too may not be as sweet this time, with adverse weather conditions damaging the crop.

State horticulture department officials say continuous spells of rain in Shimla, Mandi and Kullu districts and snow in the higher reaches of Kinnaur district are good at this point in time, but if precipitation continues till mid-April, it will delay the flowering stage of the apple crop.

"There are reports of widespread rains in Jubbal, Kotkhai, Rohru, Theog and Narkanda areas (in Shimla district). This will help sustain the required level of moisture in the soil during summer," S.P. Bhardwaj, former joint director at the Solan-based Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, told IANS.

Bhupinder Chauhan, an apple grower in Jubbal in upper Shimla, said the rain during this period is good but after the middle of next month it would be a matter of concern.

The fruit production in 2014-15 is estimated at 653,000 tonnes, compared to 866,000 tonnes in 2013-14.

"Apples constitute about 89 percent of the total fruit production. During 2014-15 (up to December 2014), 581,000 tonnes of apples were produced against 739,000 tonnes in 2013-14," the state economic survey report said.

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