Slow start to winter crop may keep cooking oil on the boil

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Arun Urs

Winter cropping season, popularly known as rabi, is off to a slow start in India as a dry October prevailed over large parts of the country. All India weighted average rainfall was 48 percent below normal in October. The Indian metrological department considers 79.6mm as normal precipitation for the month.

Farmers have sown less wheat and oilseeds so far this season, according to a preliminary estimate released by the agriculture ministry on October 30. Instead, the farmers have preferred coarse cereals such as maize, barley, finger millet, jowar and sorghum.

Gram or chickpea is the major winter pulse crop along with peas and lentils such as masur and frechbeans (kidney beans). Pulses have been sown in 2.06 million hectares compared to 2.13 million hectares last year. While coarse cereals acreage has nearly doubled from 1.42 million hectares to 2.7 million hectares. In total, winter sowing operations have covered 5.83 million hectares compared to 5.84 million hectares same time last year.

Wheat has been transplanted in 120,000 hectares compared to 206,000 hectares as on October 30 last year. Oil seed acreage is drastically down from 2 million hectares to 0.94 million hectares. On average, rabi acreage covers 62.4 million hectares. Sowing starts from October and the harvest runs up to March.

Comparing winter sowing patterns between of 2014 and 2015 is not exactly correct as the monsoon in 2014 effectively began in July whereas in this year, sowing activity started early due to copious summer rains and was further aided by above normal rains in June and July before petering out in August.

By the end of October 2013, total winter cropping acreage had covered 6.47 million hectares. Wheat was transplanted in 410,000 hectares, pulses in 2.04 million hectares, coarse cereals in 2.13 million hectares and oil seeds were sown in 1.8 million hectares.

The tepid oilseed sowing data will keep cooking oil prices on the boil. India is the second biggest importer of cooking oil. It imports about half of its annual requirement estimated at around 23 million tonnes. Rapeseed-mustard is the main oilseed grown during winter along with linseed and safflower.

The domestic mustard oil prices have been inching higher as unseasonal storms in February had hit production by 20% to 6.3 million tonnes. Retail price of mustard oil has already firmed up to Rs.120-140 per litre compared to Rs95-105 in October 2014.

Rabi crop is irrigation dependent but the water storage levels in dams across the country give no confidence on this season’s output. The water storage available in 91 major reservoirs of the country as on October 29 stood at 88.265 billion cubic metres (BCM), which is 56 percent of total storage capacity of these reservoirs. This was 75 percent of the storage of corresponding period of last year and 74 percent of storage of average of last ten years.

All hopes are now on the next monsoon season to cap the surging prices of pulses, cooking oil and vegetables.

(Aruna Urs is a Resident Farmer @ The Takshashila Institution, an independent non-partisan think-tank based out of Bangalore)

 

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