Why light showers now bring good news for farmers

Minimum temperatures are likely to come down by 2-3 degrees Celsius in Northwest, Central and Western India over the next 48 hours, the IMD said.

The current spell of rain in North and Central India will be beneficial to the standing rabi crop, especially wheat, though there are concerns over chana (chickpea) and masur (lentil) that are in the maturity or harvesting stages.

“This rain is very good for wheat in Punjab, Haryana and much of northern India, as were the showers around January 25,” said G P Singh, director of the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research at Karnal, Haryana. “The crop here is in the pre-flowering stage, and the rain will help bring down temperatures, and provide much-needed water.”

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) reported fairly widespread precipitation across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra’s Vidarbha and Marathwada regions on Sunday night and Monday due to the interaction of western disturbances (cyclonic storms originating in the Mediterranean) and low-level easterlies, which also brought snowfall in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Minimum temperatures are likely to come down by 2-3 degrees Celsius in Northwest, Central and Western India over the next 48 hours, the IMD said.

Until last week, both maximum and minimum temperatures were at above normal levels in most wheat-growing areas. The flowering (transfer of pollen from the male to female parts of the flower) of the crop in northern and northwestern India happens towards the last week of February, which ends with seed setting, and is followed by the “dough”, or grain-filling, stage from mid-March. It helps if temperatures are low throughout this period. Even in the grain-filling stage, day temperatures should not ideally cross the low 30s, so that the starch material accumulates gradually in the kernel for it to become hard and ripe for harvesting from mid-April.

In Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, grain-filling has already started, and the wheat will be ready for harvesting by early March. “Light showers aren’t a problem for the crop there at this point. But heavy rain is certainly not welcome,” Singh said.

Pritam Hanjra, a farmer from Urlana Khurd village in Haryana’s Panipat district, said the rain will prolong the winter, and save one out of the four irrigations he would have otherwise had to give.

The mustard crop, which is harvested between the third week of February and mid-March, is currently in the seed-filling stage, and is looking good as of now. “The generally dry weather this time has meant no disease (stem rot, white rust and alternaria blight), frost or aphid attacks, which take place when you have either low or high temperatures, along with high humidity. Rain in February will not do any harm,” said Dhiraj Kumar, former head of the Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research at Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

What farmers and scientists are worried about, is a recurrence of March 2015, which saw unseasonal heavy rain, accompanied by strong winds and hailstorms, in large parts of North, West and Central India. The rabi crop that was either in the grain-filling stage, or lying in the fields after harvesting, suffered massive damage. But any such concern is currently limited mainly to the pulses crop, particularly in Maharashtra and MP.

“Rain isn’t desirable for chana that has been sown early, between October 20 and the first week of November. This crop (of 110-120 days) in Central, Western and Southern India is in the harvesting or late grain-filling stage. If rain is followed by sunshine, there can be grain shattering (dispersal before pod ripening) and harvesting losses,” Narendra Pratap Singh, director of the Kanpur-based Indian Institute of Pulses Research said.

He, however, felt that the current rain is timely for chana in North India, which is generally sown from November 15 to early December. This crop is now at the flowering to seed-setting (podding) stage. A fall in temperatures will obviously help — it is another matter, though, that 75% of the country’s chana is grown in just four states: MP, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.