Punjab may face ‘toughest wheat season’ as negative factors abound

Published November 14, 2021
This file photo shows workers at a wheat field in Pakistan. — PPI/File
This file photo shows workers at a wheat field in Pakistan. — PPI/File

LAHORE: As per experts, Punjab faces perhaps one of the toughest wheat season as negative factors – competing crops, unprecedented fertilisers and diesel prices and rusting issues etc– outweigh the expected fiscal benefits of the crop this year.

The province might have turned things even more difficult for itself by accepting 21.90 million tonne yield target against 20.90 tonne of the last year. It has also set a cultivation target of 16.70m acres against 16.20m acres target assigned to it by the federal government.

“The Punjab hopes to achieve both these target despite huge difficulties,” insists Anjum Ali, director general (extension) agriculture and in charge of the provincial wheat campaign. Conceding some unprecedented factors working against the wheat crop, he says the positives are not any less important.

“For the first time, the Punjab is offering Rs1,200 per bag subsidy on over a million bags. It has also offered subsidy on weedicides for three million acres. A subsidy on rusticides for one million acres is also on the menu. Weather has so far been favourable and wheat is already sown on more than three million acres – substantially quicker pace than last year’s. For the first time in the province’s history, over 30,000 students are also involved in raising awareness and farm practices in Punjab,” he said while counting the factors favouring the crop.

Naeem Hotiana, a farmer from central Punjab, however, maintains that it is not the intangibles like awareness and farm practices that determine a crop fortune.

“It is hard core economics of the crop which is essential and that is precisely where wheat is losing the battle – like cotton. Who many farmers can afford Rs8,000 per bag Di-Ammonia Phosphate (DAP) this year against Rs4,000 per bag rate of the last year? How many of them would afford another investment of Rs4,500 on the Urea head (two bags for Rs2,250 for each). How many could bear direct cost (Rs142 per liter) of diesel or multiplied cost of land preparation because of the historically high diesel prices and still harvest 30 to 35 maunds of wheat [per acre] and then sell it at a rate of Rs1,950 per maund and earn Rs68,250 per acre [even if he gets 35 maunds average]. Compare it with Canola crop, which yields 25 maunds per acre and sells at Rs4,500 per maunds [an income of Rs112,500 per acre]. This is where wheat is falling out of farmers’ favour. And that is where it would be defeated this year,” he stresses.

“There are other factors as well, which would make achieving both these targets next to impossible,” says Muhammad Ramzan of Sheikhupura. This year, the crushing season, that started on November 10 last year, has not begun yet, delaying clearing of fields, he says.

He adds that cotton rates are much better this year and most of it is still in the field; being an indeterminate crop, its picking is staggered to let last flower yield as much as it can. Canola crop established itself a credible and financially lucrative alternative last year, he says, adding wheat suffered huge rusting issues last year as well. He says that most of these variables are not in the hands of the Punjab government.

“The farmers have jilted cotton crop as it failed both financially and agriculturally. They fear that wheat may be the next for the same reasons. Or farmers may reduce it to self-consumption, if the current trend continues, and the country may face food insecurity,” he warns.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2021

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