Sluggish pace of wheat sowing
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
to the official figures compiled on November 7, the pace of
wheat sowing this season in Punjab is slower than last year
in rain-fed areas. By that date, the province had sown only
1.2 million acres – out of which some 400,000 acres came
from barani (rain-fed) areas.
Last year, total sowing by November 7 was 1.5 million acres,
with rain-fed area contributing one million acres. This
year, four-month long dry spell in those areas, which was
partially broken in first week of November, has caused the
drop in sowing figures. Though farmers hope to see some
brisk, albeit scattered, improvement in sowing, they also
fear that achieving over two million acres traditional
barani figures may be difficult.
In the rest of the province two fears are threatening the
sowing figures. Sugarcane and rice crops are still to vacate
lands, which mainly come under wheat sowing. Though the
current stand off between the federal and provincial
governments and millers has not caused much delay in
crushing season, it has kept the situation uncertain and the
entire crop in the field so far.
As if it was not enough, the price of paddy has dropped
drastically – at least from the level where farmers had
planned to sell it. The current market rate has fallen below
the reduced procurement price and cost of production. The
government announced Rs1,250 per 40kg for super basmati and
Rs600 for Irri variety. The market rate, however, is
hovering around Rs800 per 40kg for super basmati and Rs450
per 40kg for Irri. The Punjab government had calculated cost
of production of super basmati at Rs890 per 40kg.
Both these crops jointly cover over 10 million acres, which
traditionally comes under wheat crop. Sugar mills have
promised to start their operations by mid-November, but they
would certainly delay harvesting of cane crop and subsequent
delay in sowing of wheat. The rice farmers, however, are
determined to wait till the last moment and delay wheat
And above all, the Rabi season is facing around 40 per cent
water shortage that could make a decisive dent in the crop.
Though the provincial irrigation departments are trying to
run all their canals at full capacity for now and transfer
the entire water shortage towards the end of the season, but
the strategy has its own risks.
The departmental rationale is that farmers must be enabled
to sow the crop, and hope and pray for favourable celestial
intervention towards the end of the crop, where the entire
shortage is shifted. It might work and might not.
But, it has the logic. If crop is sown, favourable weather
would save it. But no amount of favourable weather would
help an unsown crop. Though the strategy worked during the
last few years, but it is by no means a guarantee that it
would this year as well.
All these factors put together, a fear exist that the
province might end up having huge acreage of late sowing and
put a question mark before the final yield. If the province
has to complete even 60 per cent of sowing within November,
leave alone the most propitious deadline of November 20, it
would have to sow at least another ten million acres in the
next two weeks – an almost impossible task given these
factors and massive Rabi water shortage.
The reduced crop target by Punjab also adds to uncertainty
about the achieving the target. If national yield has to
touch the official target of 25 million tons, Punjab must
contribute 20 million tons (traditional 80 per cent).
The province, however, is targeting for 19.2 million tons –
some 800,000 tons less than what it should have contributed
– leaving 3.68 for Sindh, 1.2 million tons for NWFP and
900,000 tons for Balochistan.
Apart from these factors, huge carry over wheat stocks,
which the Punjab government has failed to clear during the
last one year, also generate fears among the farmers,
especially after the rice experience. The federal government
failed to clear rice stocks of 225,000 tons from last year
and has been reluctant go whole hog for procurement. The
Punjab refused point blank to get into paddy procurement.
The federal government that reluctantly joined the
procurement only set the initial target of 400,000
tons and later increased it to one million tons
after protest from farmers. But it is going slow,
and the entire southern belt is up in arms for
official failure to find its role in the area. The
rice stocks are only 225,000 tons, whereas the
Punjab alone has over five million tons of wheat
that are rusting under the open sky and at greater
risk if El Nino effect produces abnormal winter
With over Rs50 billion stocks already with the
Punjab Food Department and expensive bank loans to
service, would the Punjab government be able to
spare another Rs50 billion to buy wheat this year?
In all probability, it would not be able to spare
that kind of amount.
There does not seem to any chance of exporting the
stocks during next six months either. So, even if
liberal releases to mills take place, the Punjab
might still be carrying around 2.5 million tons
stocks forward, grossly compromising fiscal and
infrastructural ability of the government to procure
Towards the end of the fiscal year, when the coffers
are almost empty and provincial over-drafts high,
arranging money for wheat procurement will be a very
With private sector calculating each grain that the
Punjab has in its stocks and sitting on the fence
till the last moment – as it did last year – the
government and farmers would be in for a huge
trouble. Market glut and price crash would be
All these question marks are currently hanging over
the sowing, harvesting, yield and clearing of final
production of wheat crop. To make the matter worse,
the governments’ ability and enthusiasm, taking a
cue from rice crop, to deal with even a normal,
forget about 25 million tons yield is also a big
question mark. Let us keep our fingers crossed!
Courtesy: The DAWN