‘Queen of cereals’ maize set to rule rabi season
The area under coarse or nutri cereals has declined by over one lakh hectares as on January 14 during the current rabi season. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, sowing of coarse cereal crops such as maize, barley, jowar, ragi and bajra has been completed on 47.82 lakh hectares (lh), compared with 48.91 lh during the same period a year ago. Normally the area under coarse cereals during the rabi season is 56.05 lh. Data show that while farmers have shown preference for maize and barley this year, they are losing interest in other crops such as jowar, bajra and ragi.
Rapid rise in acreage
Sujay Rakshit, director of Ludhiana-based Indian Institute of Maize Research, told BusinessLine that maize production is good during rabi than kharif. “The maximum coverage is in States such as Bihar, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Cultivation of maize is increasing rapidly in West Bengal and the yield is increasing in Bihar and West Bengal,” said Rakshit. He said more farmers are favouring maize over rice because rice needs excess water. Maize, on the other hand, needs just 3-4 rounds of irrigation.
“The feed industry is importing from maize-growing States. For example, Punjab has been importing maize from Bihar and West Bengal. This season we expect good yield across maize-growing States,” Rakshit added.
A trade analyst said maize production will be good in Tamil Nadu too.
With prices in the mandis looking up, the area under maize will increase in States such as West Bengal, where it had increased in 2020 after jute prices dropped sharply. Currently, quality kharif maize is arriving in southern India, say traders.
According to Suresh Singh Chauhan, General Manager, AMDD Foods Private Ltd, the area under maize in Bihar could have increased but for the untimely rains. “Rains affected maize sowing to some extent, leading to farmers planting wheat,” he said.
Mukesh Singh, Director of Mumbai-based MuBala Agro, said maize production could be affected this year as cold weather might impact the quality of the crop. “The weather is colder than usual this year and it could affect the growth of the grain in the pod,” he said.
In Gujarat, the area under maize has been recorded at 88,715 hectares against the three-year average of 1.08 lh, down 18 per cent. Compared with last year, sowing is marginally lower, though crop prospects may be affected due to unseasonal rains.
In Maharashtra, about 2.75 lh are under maize cultivation.
Lack of good yield, returns
In Telangana, maize — generally grown in about 1.75 lh — has been sown on 0.95 lh as of now. This is a tad lower than the as-on-date acreage of 1.12 lh last year. Asked why farmers have not opted for millets and maize as they are desperately looking for good alternatives to paddy this season, S Malla Reddy, a leader of All-India Kisan Sabha, said millets did not offer good yield or returns. “They get hardly 2-3 quintals an acre. It is not encouraging for them,” he said. He, however, feels that maize might gain a bit. “There is still time for sowing,” he said.
A huge drop in paddy area in the rabi season has not benefited coarse cereals in any way in Telangana. The three main crops of maize, jowar and bajra could, at the most, match the normal average acreage, going by the latest figures compiled by the State’s agriculture department.
While the area under most other rabi crops has surged, coarse or nutri cereals — particularly sorghum (jowar) and maize — have reported a dip in Gujarat.
“Prices weren’t attractive for jowar and maize last year. And there were alternative crops such as wheat and chana, which prompted many farmers to shift away from nutri cereals,” said Ramesh Bhoraniya, a farmer from Rajkot district. “More unseasonal rains are expected later this week in north and central Gujarat districts. Hence, there could be some impact on the maize crop,” said a district agriculture officer in central Gujarat.
Cereals including bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet) saw higher cultivation at a combined 9,509 hectares, up 6 per cent from the average of 8,987 hectares, in the western State. Gujarat’s sorghum cultivation was recorded at 14,255 hectares as of January 17, 2022, against the three-year average of 24,494 hectares, showing a drop of 42 per cent.
Of the over 56 lakh hectares under rabi, coarse or nutri cereals account for over 22 lh in Maharashtra. This season, 13.51 lh in the State are under jowar. Other cereals make up 0.11 lakh hectares.
Jowar area down
In Karnataka, jowar acreage is lower compared with last year, as farmers continue to shift to other remunerative crops such as pulses. Jowar acreage as on January 13 stood at 7.31 lh, compared with 7.64 lh in the same period a year ago. Also, the acreage is lower than the target of 8.35 lh set by the State government. Over the past five years, jowar acreage in Karnataka has declined 27 per cent, from 10.05 lh in 2017-18 to 7.31 lh this year.
“Farmers are opting out of jowar due to the lack of economic viability and are shifting to other remunerative crops such as bengal gram,” said Hanumanagouda Belagurki, Chairman, Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission (KAPC). Also, the lack of mechanisation for jowar, especially for harvesting, is another factor against it.
In a recent report, KAPC had asked the Karnataka Government to increase jowar procurement to five lakh tonnes for distribution through ration shops. Belagurki said distributing nutri cereals such as jowar will not only help address food security but also nutritional security.
Andhra Pradesh seems to be lagging in sowing coarse cereals — 1.51 lh against 2.38 lh last year. In a normal year, the State grows coarse cereals in 3.19 lh, including 1.90 lh of maize and 1.14 lh of jowar.
(With inputs from KV Kurmanath, Hyderabad; Rutam Vora, Ahmedabad; Vishwanath Kulkarni, Bengaluru; Prabhudatta Mishra, New Delhi; and Subramani Ra Mancombu, Chennai)
This is the fourth report of the five-part series on rabi crops outlook