Weather-stressed wheat crop
Ahmad Fraz Khan
the first half of April remaining unusually cold, and
another spell of rains threatening not only to prolong the
cold wave into the second half of the month but also making
it humid, the wheat crop in Punjab is under stress.
Understandably, it has left the planners guessing as to how
much damage this freak weather could wreak on an otherwise
record size crop.
Crop cycle in Punjab is complete. In southern part of the
province, it is over due. But the weather is not allowing
its harvesting; hot and dry weather is needed for harvesting
whereas the current pattern is cold and humid. Already
mature, and soon to be over-mature, crop is in the field,
with farmers praying for the weather to turn hot and dry.
However, there has been no damage to the crop on this
account so far. But if the current weather pattern extends
beyond third week of April, the crop would be exposed to
possibility of shedding and lodging. That could translate
into yield loss.
The ripe crop is naturally top heavy, hanging on a weak
stem. It could easily fall with the slightest high velocity
wind. Rains make the soil wet and its grip on stem-roots
even weaker, causing lodging even without high velocity
winds. This is the risk the crop faces in the province now.
How much of it happens, no one knows for sure.
The second biggest source of uncertainty is the anatomy of
wheat crop. Once fallen on the ground, it does not have a
dormancy period like other crops. The dormancy period is the
time lag between shedding of any crop and its seeds becoming
seedlings (re-germination). Almost all other crops do have a
reasonable time lag before its fallen seeds start
germinating. But it is not so with the wheat seed. Once it
falls on the ground and the grain comes out of the spikelet,
it germinates within no time. There is, thus, no time to
save the crop once it starts falling.
Harvesting wheat in cold and humid weather has its own cost:
it hits the quality of grain, increases chances of grain
breakage and enhances post-harvest losses. All these three
factors can weigh heavily on the final yield quality of the
crop. It is because such weather makes and keeps the grain
wet even after harvesting and taxes its quality.
The moisture content in grain has to drop from around 20-10
per cent if it is not going directly for grinding. Until the
drop of moisture, the grain is also exposed to many crises –
fungus attack being one of them and bad smell the other.
It also becomes very difficult to harvest the crop by
harvester because it sifts grain from the chaff by blowing
strong air. Wet chaff sticks to wet grain, and their
separation becomes impossible. The thrashing thus has to be
carried out manually. To make the matter worse, storage of
wet grains becomes harmful. It runs high risk of fungus
attack, and affects the rest of the crop as well. If ten out
1,000 bags in a stack come under fungus attack, it becomes
very difficult to locate them and separate them. Keeping
them in there will spoil the entire stack.
In the beginning of the month, when temperatures started
dropping and snow started falling in northern parts of the
country, the metrological office was hoping things to get
back to normal after mid month. At the middle of the month,
a system producing rain has entered the country, and rain is
expected in the next 48 to 72 hours. One only hopes that the
weather gets clear after the rains, and temperatures rise to
allow not only wheat harvesting but also some snow melting
easing water shortages, which hit 50 per cent at one point
of time during last weak, hitting cotton sowing in Sindh.
But if that does not happen and the farmers had to go for
harvesting, they need to take a few precautionary measures,
like harvesting manually, keep bundling the harvest in short
intervals instead of doing so at the end of day
(traditionally, farmer harvest the crop whole day and make
the bundles in the evening), keep the bundles in standing
position so that rain water does not stay in the stem and
thrash wheat as soon as weather improves at any point of
time in 24 hours. They will also have to spry storage pots
and places (at some additional cost) before moving the crop
But if the weather improves during this week, harvesting and
thrashing would gain momentum. In that case, there would be
a distinct possibility of price crash as it would create an
instant glut in the market, and test provincial food
departments beyond their limits. It would be especially true
if cold weather does not hit the grain, and the size of the
crop remains as substantial as farmers are currently hoping
for. They are hoping a record crop of around 25 million
tons. In that case, a tradable surplus of well over eight
million tons would hit the market. With weather delaying
harvesting, time for trade is being squeezed
correspondingly. That is why the catch would lie for
everyone in the trade, especially the official sector.
The government is targeting procurement of 6.5 million tons,
leaving around two million tons for private sector.
Situation would worsen if the private sector goes slow and
government agencies are unable to buy quickly. All the
government agencies have a procedure for procurement, which
is slow and hardly matches normal arrival of wheat in the
market. This time, it would be even short span. A
substantially bigger crop size and its quick arrival would
be a cause of concern for everyone this year.
Courtesy: The DAWN