scorecardLast-minute patch of intense rain and hail affects wheat harvest across India’s ‘food bowl’ states
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Last-minute patch of intense rain and hail affects wheat harvest across India’s ‘food bowl’ states

Last-minute patch of intense rain and hail affects wheat harvest across India’s ‘food bowl’ states
LifeScience2 min read
After two straight years of substandard yields, a beacon of bright light finally appeared in mid-January 2024. According to Agricultural Minister Arjun Munda, Indian farmers had sown more wheat than in the previous years this time around, which could help the nation set a new wheat production record during the ongoing 2023-24 crop year. But the weather, it appears, had other plans.

You see, wheat is extremely sensitive to high temperatures! Last year, temperature fluctuations played a major role in the overall shortfalls and subsequent food price inflation. However, the expectations of a bumper harvest this year received a boost when the India Meteorological Department (IMD) also predicted that March maximum temperatures were likely to remain normal to below normal in many parts of several wheat-growing states — including Punjab, a major part of India’s “food bowl” states.

But just as the farmers were preparing to harvest the yield of their hard labour, disaster struck. Untimely hailstorms and heavy rain lashed some parts of India's wheat-cultivating belt in the last couple of weeks, threatening the dream of a record-breaking crop yield this year.

These storms wreaked havoc in Punjab, in particular, damaging around 1,50,000 hectares of wheat and rapeseed crops that now lay slouched over in the fields. Now, farmers anxiously await damage assessments while bracing for potential yield losses due to the severe weather.

Further, the downpours and hail, combined with forecasts of above-average temperatures and heatwave days in some other parts of Northwest India in March, could spell more trouble for the upcoming harvest.

Wheat is harvested between April and May. According to IMD’s long-range summer forecast, daytime temperatures are likely to be above normal in most of the country from March to May — including in about half of Punjab. In addition, all of the wheat-belt states, including Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, will see more than the usual number of heatwave days this summer season. All of these factors could have an effect on the wheat output this year.

However, there is still reason for cautious optimism. The recent hail-affected area represents only a small fraction of India's overall wheat plantings, and some crops are expected to recover. According to a report by the Business Standard, experts explained that some of the hail-bent wheat will revive, and overall, the crop condition appears promising at the moment.

It is a crucial time for India in terms of crop output. The farm ministry had predicted a record wheat harvest of 112 million tons in 2024, which would have allowed them to lift 2022’s shipment curbs that had been put in place to ensure food security and control domestic prices in the nation. It remains to be seen if the weather damage forces them to reconsider these plans.

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