North Indian cold wave impacts two major Rabi crops in different ways

The cold wave in northern India in the second week of January has impacted the two major Rabi crops – mustard and wheat in different ways. It will increase the production of wheat this Rabi season by 5 million tonnes to 112 million tonnes, experts said. This could spur the government to lift the ban on wheat exports as there will be enough stock to meet the domestic requirement and maintain a buffer stock too.

But temperature below 5 degree centigrade has impacted the flowering of mustard seeds in certain pockets of the mustard growing region.

“The cold wave in the first fortnight of this month has remained favourable for the wheat crop. According to our estimate, production will be 5 million tonnes more compared to last year,” said Dr Gyanendra Singh, director of Karnal-based ICAR-Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR).

He added that with higher production, there will be enough stock for domestic consumption and the government may consider export of wheat as it will help the country to earn foreign exchange.

On Friday, May 13, 2022, the government had announced a ban on wheat exports, effective immediately, citing the sudden spike in global wheat prices and the resulting food security risks to India. Wheat production had declined to 106.84 million tonnes due to heat waves in key growing states in the 2021-22 crop year, as per the agriculture ministry data.

Farmers have planted an all-time-high area of 91.56 lakh hectares under mustard, compared to 84.47 lakh hectares in 2021-22, and the normal average of 63.46 lakh hectares. Unlike with wheat though, the dry and cold winter has not been beneficial for mustard.

Mustard, which is generally sown by October-end, starts flowering after 50-60 days and forming siliqua (pods containing seeds) over the next 35-40 days. The severe cold wave conditions over Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh between January 15 and 18 is believed to have caused frost damage to the crop in many areas.B.V. Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors Association of India said the cold wave has impacted flowering of mustard seeds in certain pockets of the mustard growing states. “However, since the acreage is more this year, it will not have a huge impact on the overall mustard production this year,” he said.

While clear sunshine in the morning and a sharp dip in night temperatures to near freezing point isn’t bad for wheat, it can be disastrous for mustard. The extent of injury or rupture of the pods due to cold shock and frost — ice crystals forming inside the plant tissues — is still not known.

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