Friday, October 11, 2013

Kharif foodgrain output may surpass last year's level: Pawar

Initial estimate falls short of the target of 130.5 million tonnes of foodgrain production
India's foodgrain production is projected to increase marginally in the kharif (summer) season this year to 129.32 million tonnes after more than half the country received normal monsoon rains.

"Total foodgrain production in the kharif season of the 2013-14 crop year is definitely expected to be higher than last year's level at 129.32 million tonnes," Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told PTI.

Foodgrain output stood at 128.2 million tonnes in last year's kharif season. Sowing in the kharif season starts with the southwest monsoon in June and harvesting from October.

The initial estimate falls short of the target of 130.5 million tonnes of foodgrain production set for the kharif season this year. Rice, pulses, cotton, maize and soyabean are the major kharif crops.

Pawar said production of paddy, the main kharif crop, is projected to exceed last year's level of 92.76 million tonnes as good monsoon rainfall has boosted the acreage and crop prospects. He didn't give an output estimate for paddy.

Except for sugarcane, which was sown in a smaller area, production of other kharif crops looks bright, he said.

Crop-wise production forecast would be provided tomorrow when the first advance estimates of the kharif season for the 2013-14 crop year (July-June) are released, he added.

According to the Indian Meteorological Department, 53 per cent of the country received normal rains during the June to September monsoon season, while one-third of the country got excess rains. The monsoon has withdrawn from the northern and western parts.

A good monsoon is needed for India's economic growth as more than 60 per cent of the population depends on agriculture and allied activities.

The Agriculture Ministry has set a target of 128.5 million tonnes of foodgrain production during the rabi (winter) season, which will start from next month through February 2014.

Extended rains boost rabi crop prospects

India's wheat output to exceed record of 94.9 mt set in 2011-12 crop year (July-June)

Extended rains across the country have led to hopes of a rise in rabi crop acreage. This follows estimates of a bumper kharif crop this year.

At a recent meeting, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had said India's wheat output was expected to exceed the record of 94.9 million tonnes (mt) in the 2011-12 crop year (July-June). “The government hopes this rabi season, wheat production would achieve another milestone, given the right amount of moisture available in the soil and various interventions by the central and state governments,” he had said.

In the 2012-13 crop year, wheat production had declined to 92.5 mt. Production of other major rabi crops, including barley, mustard seed and chana, is also likely to rise due to the likelihood of higher acreage this season.

This year, the onset of the southwest monsoon was on time and most areas recorded normal rains. However, in some areas in Bihar, Jharkhand and the northeast, rainfall stood at only 20-30 per cent of the long-period average. Pawar said good rains in July and August had raised hopes of a bumper harvest this year. A dry September would help the rice crop mature well in north India, he added.

Against last year's kharif foodgrain production of 128.2 mt, this year's production was pegged at 129.32 mt, according to the first advance estimate.

This year’s rabi crop yield could be very high if winter rains were timely and temperatures favourable, said Prerana Desai, vice-president (research), Kotak Commodity Services.

Prasoon Mathur, a Religare Commodities analyst, said for the rabi crop, the climate had turned favourable, with spells of rains. However, increased soil moisture would be a hurdle to harvesting kharif crops, albeit for a short period. “Initial indications are the rabi crop output will remain high this year,” said Mathur.

“The extended monsoon will be good for the rabi crop and given the monsoon is expected to be favourable, we can continue to see good prospects for agriculture. But given the higher base of last year, our forecast for agri output will be 3- 3.5 per cent this year. Wheat, in particular, would do well,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, CARE Ratings.

Maize down 1.6% on rising inventories

December contract weakened by 1.53%

Maize prices declined by Rs 20 to Rs 1,212 per quintal in futures trade today as traders offloaded their holdings in the wake of weak domestic and overseas markets sentiment.

Marketmen said fresh supply of new crops in the markets increased the stockpiles and put pressure on the prices.

Fall in its prices at global markets also influenced the market sentiment, they said.

At the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange, maize prices for most active near November month fell by Rs 20, or 1.62%, to Rs 1,212 per quintal, with an open interest of 34,190 lots.

December contract weakened by Rs 19, or 1.53%, to Rs 1,222 per quintal, clocking an open interest of 10,580 lots.

Current October contract eased by Rs 12, or 0.92%, to Rs 1,296 per quintal, depicting an open interest of 9,480 lots.

Maize set to glisten on rains

Summer and winter crop expected to total 25 million tonnes, 10% higher than last year's

Riding the wave of a good monsoon, the maize crop in 2013-14kharif and rabi together is likely to have a record production. Industry and farmers are putting the total crop at 24.5 to 25 million tonnes, by the indications available.

According to data from the ministry of agriculture, the sowing area of maize as on October 2 (kharif) had risen by 11 per cent to 8.22 million hectares against 7.4 million hectares in the year-ago period. Rabi production is 20-25 per cent of total production.

Lured by the high remuneration (Rs 1,350-Rs 1,750 a quintal against the minimum support price of Rs 1,175 a quintal last year) the farmers in all maize-growing states have increased the sowing area.

Experts are expecting an increase of at least 10 per cent in the output this year.

According to Raju Choksi, vice-president (agri-commodities), Anil Nutrients, a higher-than-normal monsoon across major growing states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh is likely to further push rabi acreage this financial year. By the first advance estimates of the ministry of agriculture, production is expected at 17.8 million tonnes compared to 16 million by the fourth estimates for 2012-13.

“Production is likely to surpass all records this year. We expect bumper crop as the kharif production may cross 18 million tonnes by the time the ministry comes out with the second advance estimates, as the first estimates are usually very conservative,” he said. Choksi added the rabi production last year was 6.25 million tonnes despite a bad monsoon and so this year production was likely to be higher.

The projections of a higher acreage and yield is music to the ears of the starch industry, operating under thin margins. Many units had closed due to high cost.

According to Vishal Majithia, president of All IndiaStarch Manufacturers' Association, the arrivals of kharif crop may get delayed due to the prolonged monsoon. “It may get deferred by a month. So, we may have a flush of arrivals in December instead of November. The excess rain may increase the moisture content in maize and may also destroy the crop. The high moisture content also mars the prospects of exports,” he added.

He conceded the overall crop should be better than last year’s.

Jang Bahadur Singh Sangha, a farmer in Punjab, said the thrust on the diversification of agriculture and the state's efforts have driven farmers towards maize. If the farmers get a price higher than the minimum support price, the trend would continue, he added.

'India much behind China in agri innovations'

The Union government's implementation of the Food Security Act is a good initiative to eradicate hunger. But, the government is not clear on whether it will protect farmers’ interest, said Dr Raj S Paroda, chairperson, Farmers' Commission, Haryana. 

Delivering a lecture on “Addressing emerging concerns of Indian agriculture” here on Wednesday, Dr Paroda said that even in terms of the buffer stocks in the country, the Centre is not clear on the exact requirement of foodgrains for the underprivileged, who are the beneficiaries of the Food Security Act.

India has not done much in the field of agriculture innovation when compared to China. “India has done just over 250 innovations, compared to China’s 21,000 innovations. Even in terms of field allotted for protected cultivation, China has over two million hectares protected, while it is just 40,000 protected hectares in India,” he added.

Green Revolution in India is still a distant dream due to lack of appropriate policy on agriculture, institutional support and human resources,” he opined

Flood-tolerant rice: The future of agriculture

With sea levels rising and weather conditions worsening, plant scientists continue to search for ways to save agricultural plants from environmental threats to sustain the world's food supply.
Countries are in need of rice varieties that can "tolerate higher temperature and drought, survive prolonged flooding, and soil salinity," said Dr. Robert S. Zeigler, Director General, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) during the 11th International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA) International Conference, Monday.
Rice shortage is one of the threats the scientists of IRRI are trying to prevent from coming to pass.
Being the primary staple food of 70% of the world's poor, the demand for rice increases with each generation. Even with the world's temperature increase, changes in rainfall, and weather disasters, we would still need to make 100 million more tons of rice every 12 years, Zeigler said.
Rice is also grown in monsoonal areas are prone to flooding.
"But everything we need, nature has already figured out," said Professor Rens Voesenek, President of the ISPA. "It's only a matter of looking for the genes responsible for desirable traits that need to be interbred within the species of plants."
"We have to explore nature to find those genes which are relevant to help us make more tolerant crops. Nature discovered this all very many, many times," he added.
"There are many plants close to rivers, and many plants in marshes, and in swamps throughout the world. So there are genes, there are processes out there in nature to protect plants against flooding. The trick now is to pick them out, find them, and bring them into rice or other vulnerable crops."
The SUB1 gene
One example is the SUB1 gene, which became famous thanks to a study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2006.
SUB1 is the gene responsible for submergence tolerance. It was discovered in a low-yielding breed of rice in India. It was tediously cross-bred with high yielding varieties for years.
"It took a long time to introduce it to other varieties," said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, Principal Scientist and Plant Physiologist of IRRI.
"Actually until 1996, there was very little success. Few varieties have developed that are high yield that (also) have this gene."
In 1995 IRRI was able to map this gene. Using molecular markers, scientists were able to tell which varieties have the gene, and how much of the genome from the original plant was passed on to its "offspring." This process is called marker-assisted breeding, which quickened the cross-breeding process.
"Any variety when flooded in one week, it will die," said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, Principal Scientist and Plant Physiologist of IRRI. "But the varieties with the SUB1, they can withstand flooding even up to 16 to 18 days sometimes in the field."
The new plant was introduced in 2008. About three million farmers have planted these submergence-tolerant rice varieties in 2012.
Dream variety
At the moment, IRRI is working breeding rice varieties that are drought-tolerant and salinity tolerant as well.
"Our dream varieties are (those) that can tolerate drought, submergence, salinity, and actually we are developing these varieties now. We are hoping that in two or three years, we'll start releasing them," said Ismail.
But the level of tolerance developed this year will probably not be sufficient five to 10 years from now, he said.
"Fortunately, plant science now is advancing very quickly. We are learning a lot about adaptation—how plants adapt to these conditions. We go and study plants living in very tough conditions and learn from them and try to bring that information to improve crops."
Ismail said that with the advancements in genetics and genomics, and the sequences of rice genomes available, there is a lot of promise in the advancement of plant science.

India caterpillar attack flags risk of climate-linked farm pests

An infestation of jute hairy caterpillar in parts of India’s Assam state has ruined the crops of several thousand farmers, leaving many facing a bleak future.
According to local farmers, the caterpillars were first noticed on Aug. 13 in jute plantations in the northeastern districts of Nagaon and Barpeta. They quickly multiplied, and the pests went on to destroy large tracts of jute, a natural fibre used in cloth, as well as vegetables.
“It was the first time in our life that we saw so many caterpillars - they numbered in the several thousands and maybe in lakh (hundreds of thousands) as well,” said Nur Islam Fakir, a 45-year-old farmer from Juria in Nagaon district. “I myself have suffered losses of over 100,000 rupees ($1,615).”
Fakir had planted jute on 90 percent of his one hectare plot, and was growing vegetables on the rest, but now almost nothing remains, and he faces economic ruin.
“We were literally attacked,” said Aminul Ahmed, a 48-year-old farmer also from Juria. “Overnight thousands of these caterpillars swarmed into our village, and besides our crops, also destroyed our small home gardens and came into our houses, schools, mosques and temples.”
Ahmed said several families had fled in fear to nearby towns, and have yet to return.
Experts link the infestation with drier-than-usual conditions, and are concerned that erratic weather and longer-term climate change could usher in new pest problems for subsistence farmers, threatening their incomes and food supplies.
The local agriculture department said it had never encountered such an invasion before, adding that farmers have suffered massive losses amounting to more than several hundred thousand rupees.
“In the area in Nagaon district where the caterpillar infestation took place, almost 1,200 hectares of land is under jute cultivation, and of this, almost 100 hectares has been affected,” said DB Buragohain, a senior agriculture officer posted in Nagaon.
He blamed the appearance of the caterpillars largely on this year’s sparse rainfall in the state.
“Immediately after it rained, the infestation by these caterpillars almost disappeared, and the situation came under control,” said Buragohain.
“There has been scanty rainfall this year, and until August 12-13 when the infestation by these caterpillars began, the rainfall was very minimal, but interestingly it rained after August 17 and then these pests started disappearing,” he added.
Buragohain offered more evidence that a lack of water was the cause of the caterpillar epidemic.
“When some of the farmers who have land near the Brahmaputra River tried to wash some of the jute containing the caterpillars, most of them disappeared. This points to one thing: that scanty rainfall is the reason behind this pest infestation,” said Buragohain.
The situation in Barpeta district, which has suffered a similar caterpillar infestation, is no better. According to local officials, jute and vegetable crops were munched on more than 1,000 hectares of land, affecting several thousand farmers.
Senior agriculture officials and scientists have been asked to monitor the situation closely and to stay in touch with farmers as the situation improves, according to Siddharth Singh, deputy commissioner of Barpeta district.
Assam’s agriculture minister, Nilomoni Sen Deka, said his department had directed the Krishi Vikash Kendra (KVK), a government farm research organisation, to send a team to the affected areas.
Scientists fear shifting rainfall patterns could bring further climate-linked pest infestations.
“We have never come across such rainless periods during this time of the year, and if this trend continues in the future, then such attacks might occur again,” said Biswajit Guha, a senior agricultural scientist posted in Nagaon, who is part of the KVK team working on the problem.
Guha said low rainfall and warm temperatures in August had enabled the caterpillars to multiply rapidly.
 “It is important to take immediate steps to destroy the eggs laid by these caterpillars, and also to provide farmers with the required pesticides and so on. Otherwise there could be similar attacks again by caterpillars when farmers cultivate their next crops,” Guha warned.
Assam’s agriculture minister said his department was awaiting further feedback from district agriculture officials and researchers before taking preventive action.
“Once we get the final report from the agriculture scientists we will be able to arrive at a conclusion, and the department will also be able to work out remedies to tackle such a situation in the future,” Deka said.