New Delhi: With the extension of winter and timely rains in early March providing a conducive climate for wheat production, the total output is expected to touch 105 million tonnes this year. Ironically, farmers are worried as higher production means lower returns, going by past experience.
Higher availability of wheat stocks in the government pool at 23.9 million tonnes in February this year against 17.5 million tonnes in the like month last year has led to growing concerns on the approach of the Food Corp of India (FCI) to procurement this year.
Farmers in the major wheat producing states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have had unpleasant experiences in the past when they failed to get Minimum Support Prices (MSP) fixed by the government.
Nazer Singh, a farmer from Punjab, said the crop remuneration had always been a problem but it worsened in 2016 - the year high-value currency was demonetized.
"Although the government announces the MSP, we hardly get it if we have to sell it in the open market. In case, the government's procurement centres do not open on time, we are forced to sell at prices fixed by traders," said Nazer Singh, who cultivates six acres of land in Bareta in Mansa district.
"Now, we have heard wheat output will be higher this time. It may translate into a drop in prices."
Many farmers had complained of receiving a lower price in the market than the MSP of Rs 1,735 per quintal last year. This year, the MSP has been increased by Rs 105 to Rs 1,840 per quintal.
According to government officials, wheat harvesting has begun in some areas of Madhya Pradesh and will begin accelerating to its peak from the first week of April across the country.
Farm activist Kedar Sirohi said better remuneration could be expected this year as per current market dynamics but may drop if traders changed their strategies later.
"Farmers do not get appreciation for their work. We expect the production and quality will be better this time. However, we are not sure about guaranteed good returns since this depends on how traders make purchases. It is a tragedy," Sirohi said.
Also, the government may not want wheat prices to go up during election time, he added.
Farm analyst Devinder Sharma said that more the farmers produce, the lower is the income they can expect, which makes it imperative to cut down production in order to get right price.
"The government does not procure the harvest in time, leaving the fixation of prices to the market forces. Farmers must stop intensive farming as an increase in productivity means dip in their income," he said.
"They must reduce their output by at least 10 per cent if they want remunerative prices. It is not anti-national. They are fighting for their survival."
Farmers must look for alternative source of income by making optimum use of land and resources they have, Sharma added.
G.P. Singh, Director, Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR), said the long-cherished dream of 100 million tonnes plus production is set to happen this year.
An important constituent of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the IIWBR is a nodal agency for research activities on wheat and barley in the country.
"As the winter extended and rains occurred in the first week of March, there will be conducive climate during ripening process, which means higher production," Singh told IANS.
"We are hopeful that the total output this year will touch 105 million tonnes."
However, as per the second advanced estimates released by the Agriculture Ministry last month, the total wheat output is pegged at 99.12 million tonnes.
India stands second in wheat production in the world at 12.05 per cent, as per the Food Ministry data.
Last year, domestic production was 97.11 million tonnes and about 35.8 million tonnes was procured by the government agencies.