Rabi crops sowing crosses 58.6 mn hectares

The total area sown under rabi crops as of 5 January 2018 stands at 58.64 million hectares compared to 58.76 million hectares at this time in 2017, preliminary reports received from the states showed.

Wheat has been sown/transplanted in 28.35 million hectares, rice in 1.88 million hectares, pulses in 15.49 million hectares and coarse cereals in 5.25 million hectares while the area under oilseeds stands at 7.67 million hectares.

While the monsoon brought 10 per cent below normal rain across the country, making it the best northeast monsoon by the quantum of rains since 2013, the slight decline in area under rabi crop has been attributed to staggered distribution of rains across the country.

The summer monsoon of 2017 was characterised by a staggered pattern of rain, a pattern where it either poured - often drenching places with months' worth of rain within a few hours - or didn't rain at all. By the end of the season, the country as a whole ended up with 4 per cent less rains despite an incredibly high number of devastating floods in over 20 states in the country.

Northeast monsoon followed the erratic pattern of summer monsoon

The pattern was most strikingly visible in Tamil Nadu, where post-monsoon rains contribute 40-60 per cent of the state's annual rainfall.

Over the three months Tamil Nadu received 394 mm of rains, nine per cent short of its normal - 433 mm.

The staggered distribution has left a visible mark on the pattern of sowing too and will undoubtedly have an impact on the rabi crop production.

In Tamil Nadu, paddy sowing improved from 774,000 hectare during 2016-17 to 1.06 million hectare in 2017-18, according to numbers put out by the Directorate of Rice Development in Patna, but this number is still 15 per cent lower than the normal coverage in the state that stands at 1.26 million ha. In Andhra Pradesh, too, paddy sowing was undertaken only in about half the normal area of 742,000 ha. But perhaps the biggest surprises due to the poor northeast monsoon will come from outside the southern peninsula.

The northeast monsoon is generally considered more important to southern states than to the states further north. States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh receive close to 60 mm rains during the season that add to soil moisture and aid wheat rabi crop. The effects on sowing are already visible in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, two of the country's largest wheat producing states.

In Madhya Pradesh, area on which wheat is sown was about 20 per cent below normal while in Uttar Pradesh wheat was sown this season on 9.2 million ha as opposed to 9.75 million ha. Ostensibly, there has been a shift in both states to pulses, which are considered better for drier climates. But with high imports of pulses already undertaken how fruitful this shift shall be and how successful India's Rabi crop will be will be known in March.