PUNJAB would harvest a record 20.525m tonnes of wheat this year, according to the estimates of the Space and Upper Atmospheric Research Commission. Earlier the food department has been insisting on a figure well above 20m tonnes.
However, the Crop Reporting Wing of the Punjab Agriculture Department has put the figure at 19.541m tonnes, in the revision of an earlier report of 19.20m tonnes.
The wing, which has always been over-cautious, is regularly accused of rigging the crop size. Its estimates, if healthier, create internal pressure on the government to raise the procurement target correspondingly.
The Di-Ammonia Phosphate (DAP) and NPK saw their usage increasing from the targeted 600,000 tonnes to over 1m tonnes — up 33pc. Now there is a difference of almost 1m tonnes between its estimates and that of Suparco’s.
The grain gained its health for two reasons: massive usage of phosphatic fertiliser and relatively cooler March.
The Di-Ammonia Phosphate (DAP) and NPK saw their usage increasing from the targeted 600,000 tonnes to over 1m tonnes — up 33pc.
The figure represented 54pc improvement over the last three years’ average consumption. This led to vigorous grain filling and increasing the yield strongly. The government takes the credit for facilitating the phosphate usage by subsiding it.
The DAP, which used to sell at Rs3,900 a bag before the Rabi season, was brought down to Rs3,400 by the federal subsidy of Rs500 and the market forces dented the price by another Rs200-300, bringing the final cost to around Rs3,000 a bag by the time its usage started. The previous record of fertiliser off-take stood at 780,000 tonnes.
Interestingly, the usage of urea dropped by 13pc during the same period. The reported off-take between October and March remained at 1.7m tonnes, which is 15pc less than last three years’ average utilisation. Most of the farmers’ investment went to phosphatic fertiliser this year which also helped the crop survive the rust attack in some wheat growing areas.
Another factor, which helped the crop yield was early sowing — up to 80pc in November. Farmers from the cotton belt went for an early termination of their crop and wheat sowing. This gave the wheat crop a good 130-135 days in the field, leading to fuller maturity.
Though the crop suffered early setback in relatively hot December and the first half of January — at the tillering stage –mild March temperatures, with rains at regular intervals, compensated the early stress.
Although January and February had less than average rains ample supply of canal water — 19.75m acre feet, which also matches its historic usage of the province — kept the crop out of pressure for its entire four-month life cycle and helped it gain strength.
Any improvement in crop, which is bartered for a wide spectrum of services at the village level, should provide the much needed socio-economic relief to the stressed farmers.
However, the government needs a strategy to diversify the crop base. This year the wheat acreage increased by almost 4pc. Against the targeted 16.50m acres, it was planted on 17.143m acres.
If only wheat continues to yield better returns, the country and especially Punjab would soon start having unmanageable glut. Its financial and administrative reach would be tested this year as well as when the impact of huge carry-over conflates with a bumper crop.