Amid lack of rains, Maharashtra farmers opt for short-duration crops

MARATHWADA : Farmers in Maharashtra are increasingly opting for short-duration crops such as jowar and maize, prompted by uncertainty about rains. While sowing has picked up in the state, the dry phase has left farmers worried, with fears of having to resow their crops looming large.

Data from the state agricultural department show a steady rise in the sowing of maize, bajra and sunflower. Sowing in almost all pulses, oilseeds, food grains and sugarcane has reported a dip. As of July 12, the biggest year-on-year dip has been noticed in the case of sugarcane, with sowing reported on 28,118 hectares as against last year’s 35,903 hectares.

Better prices and lower moisture requirement has led to many farmers preferring maize and bajra (sorghum). Both crops had traded above the government-declared Minimum Support Price (MSP) throughout last year — a major incentive for farmers. The crops stay on the field for around 90-100 days as compared to cotton and soyabean, which stay on the field for 180 days or more. Rains have largely been absent in Marathwada and Vidarbha, the main belts for cotton, oilseed and pulses, where farmers have gone for bajra and maize as alternatives.

In areas where sowing was carried out, farmers said the break in rains has raised question marks over the crop. At maximum risk is the cotton crop, with farmers from Amravati not ruling out the possibility of having to resow their crops. In districts such as Nanded and Latur, farmers have taken to returning cotton and soyabean seeds that they had procured on credit as the window for sowing has passed.

Pasha Patel, chairman of the state government’s committee on farm pricing, said, “Soyabean prices have remained good throughout the last year and the crop is more drought-tolerant than cotton, which would propel some diversion of area for the oilseed,” he said.

However, Naresh Goenka, vice-president of the Soybean Processors Association of India (SOPA), said, “Vidarbha has seen rains during sowing, which eluded Marathwada. Both areas require urgent rains for crops to survive,” he said.

Goenka felt the area of cultivation of bajra and maize would increase by 5 and 15 per cent respectively this year.