Indian farmer switching to cotton, soya, and sugarcane from coarse cereals

Despite the Indian government’s recent initiative to promote the cultivation of coarse cereals, particularly Nutri-cereals, it has been a mixed bag this year as far as Kharif sowing is concerned.
The major reason is that growers, even those who got record prices for maize in the last season that ended in June, are looking for better returns this season.
As of July 28, the area under all coarse cereals was 142.21 lakh hectares (lh) against 135.30 lh a year ago. While the acreage in jawar (sorghum) and bajra (pearl millet) has increased, the coverage of maize and ragi (finger millet) is showing a decline.
During the last Kharif season, the total area under coarse cereals across the country was 180.6 lh and production was 35.64 million tonnes (MT) (22.65 MT of maize and 12.99 MT of Nutri-cereals). This season, the target is to produce 40.60 MT (23.10 MT of maize and 17.50 MT of Nutri-cereals).
Surprising development
Trade experts and analysts say it could be an uphill task to achieve the production target for coarse cereals.
One of the major reasons for the situation is that this year the three major producers—Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh—have reported a lower acreage, even though the overall sowing area has increased by 5% on the back of nearly 30% surge in bajra coverage.
The development is surprising since maize prices are currently ruling at a record high of INR 2,600 a quintal at the user end. “Generally, maize prices have seldom ruled above INR 1,400 but throughout last year they were above INR 1,700 a quintal. There is good demand for exports from countries such as Bangladesh, which are offering USD 320-330 a tonne,” said Mukesh Singh, Director, MuBala Agro Commodities Pvt Ltd.
The minimum support price for maize for the last crop year was INR 1,870 a quintal and this year it has been fixed at INR 1,962.
The national weighted average modal price (the rate at which most of the trades take place) is currently INR 2,001 a quintal against INR 1,665 a year ago.
No uniform patterns
“Farmers are looking for better returns. Though maize prices are at a record high, they think they can get better prices by growing other crops such as cotton, sugarcane and oilseeds. We are witnessing that this year,” said M Madan Prakash, President, Agri Commodities Exporters Association.
“Ultimately, farmers will decide the crop based on what is most remunerative for them. You cannot force or persuade them to diversify to a particular crop. If demand is created and better prices are offered, farmers will definitely opt for coarse cereals,” said food policy analyst Vijay Sardana.
“There is no uniform pattern seen in sowing this year as farmers in Karnataka and Maharashtra have shifted towards soybean and cotton while maize area in Madhya Pradesh is at par. In Rajasthan, jowar, bajra and maize acreage have topped last year’s total areas already,” said Sain Dass, a maize breeder and former president of the Indian Maize Development Association (IMDA).
“Rains have been the major contributing factor affecting the impact. We have also witnessed an insect attack last year which has resulted in a fall in sowing of those crops this year,” said Sateesh Nukala, CEO & Co-founder, BigHaat.
Maize slips
“All crops are higher from the year-ago period in Rajasthan as monsoon reached earlier this year prompting farmers to go for early sowing early. While 75% of sowing got completed in the targeted area of 163.88 lh until August 3 last year, 97% area has been covered out of 164.17 lh targeted this season. So, comparison with the year-ago sowing area does not give the actual scenario,” said Rampal Jat, president of Kisan Mahapanchayat. “We have also seen a drop in the cultivation of ragi and maize this year,” said Nukala.
In Karnataka, the top producer of maize and ragi, the acreage under the Kharif coarse/Nutri-cereals is down by 16% at 14.72 lh. The sowing of maize is still on and current acreages are around 12.33 lh against 12.54 lh a year ago. “There’s a good amount of maize sowing as prices are good for the farmers and there should be a good crop this year,” said K S Ashok Kumar of MAA Integrators in Bengaluru. The crop size would depend on the yield as many areas are still witnessing rains.
The new crop is likely to hit the market around September-end. Besides, the strong domestic offtake due to the rebound in poultry placements post-Covid, the export demand is also keeping the prices of maize firm, Kumar said.
Jowar area up a tad
Fortunately, there have been no reports of the fall armyworm (FAW) insect this year in Karnataka whereas the pest had lowered the maize yield successively in the past couple of years.
In Telangana, there have been sizeable coverage of maize in the current Kharif season. Against the normal (5 years average) acreage of 4.74 lh under maize, sowing in this season is down at 1.7 lh from 2.5 lh a year ago, but it is expected to pick up. Moreover, recent rains and floods have damaged the crop and many farmers said it would not be possible for them to resow the crop.
In Andhra Pradesh, the State has targeted to increase the maize area by 10,000 hectares to 1.18 lh as against the average area of 1.10 lh. Sowing is progressing well with 48,000 hectares covered as of July 28.
BigHaat’s Nukala said the cultivation of jowar has increased marginally, but bajra has witnessed a sharp rise. However, the area under ragi is down sharply with the acreage being affected badly in Tamil Nadu.
In Karnataka, the sowing of jawar and bajra has been sluggish as farmers have shown a preference for more lucrative crops such as cotton and soybean.
Lauding the Centre’s efforts in declaring 2023 as the international year of millet, Sardana suggested a more professional campaign to promote Nutri-cereals. This is particularly true given the Centre’s efforts to popularise coarse cereals cultivation.
Source: Business Line