Are farmers in Maharashtra ditching grape cultivation for sugarcane farming?

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The cycle seems to have turned within a decade. Around 10 years ago, a wave of grape cultivation had gripped Maharashtra. Farmers ditched sugarcane and turned to grapes in huge numbers. Today, farmers are ditching grape farming and turning back to sugarcane cultivation.  

Fact is grape cultivation has turned costlier in the state. Grape vines require a lot of care and maintenance, in addition to high amount of pesticides. Skilled labourers demand no less than Rs. 500 per day. Prices of pesticides are high. Many farmers tried raisin production, but Maharashtra is witnessing a glut in production of raisins. 

Farmers are unable to recover their production cost for the past two seasons. Last year was catastrophic due to Covid-19 lockdown. Farmers who chose raisin production faced losses because raisins worth a staggering Rs. 900 crores were jammed in cold storages of Sangli, which is one of the most prominent districts of Maharashtra for grape production.  

Sugarcane, in contrast is a crop for the lazy farmer. It doesn’t require constant monitoring, nor does it need fertilisers and pesticides. This crop guarantees a good return to the farmers as well through the FRP model. Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) is the minimum price that farmers will get by selling sugarcane to sugar mills. The Commission of Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) recommends the price and FRP is based on it. The price is fixed under Sugarcane Control Order.  

Normal sugarcane crop gives farmers 1.18 times return. When they take ratoon crop, farmers easily get 2.8 times the return on their investment. Ratoon crop means the farmers harvest crop in a manner that they leave the roots of the crop intact while cutting the stems. The roots again grow into another crop.  

According to a statement by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, sugarcane growers get an average net return, which is 10 times that from gram (chana) and cotton put together.  

As per latest reports, Maharashtra sugar mills have crushed around 961 lakh tonnes of sugarcane this season. This is the highest quantity ever crushed in the history of Maharashtra. The sugar season continues in the state. The Indian Sugar Mills Association, the net cane area of the state has increased by around 48 per cent in the sugar season of 2020-21.  

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