LAHORE: Punjab on Friday announced achieving 16.21 million acre wheat sowing target – three per cent less than its self-assigned goal of 16.70 million acres, while the farmers believe that the loss may even be bigger, which provincial officials are trying to hide.

The declared acreage, however, is more than 99 per cent of the target assigned by the federal government – 16.22 million acres – to Punjab at the start of the season. Since Punjab wanted to overshoot production target (20.90 million tonnes) by one million tonnes, it added another 500,000 acres to the tally.

Explaining the loss, an officials of the Punjab Crop Reporting Service, which finalises the figure, says that two competing crops took the toll. The potato crop, which stood at 545,000 acres last year, expanded to 740,400 acres – an increase of more than 26 percent. Similarly, oil seed crops saw their areas increasing by over 41 per cent – from 413,500 acres last year to 585,500 acres this season. The south, especially Rahim Yar Khan, saw expansion in sugarcane area, which is now entering its second year. All these increases naturally came at the cost of wheat, he says.

“In addition to the expanding area of the competing crops, wheat is also failing for its commercial viability,” a high-ranking official of the Punjab Agriculture Department concedes. He says its cost of production is increasing at a much faster pace than its support price. This year, the support price increased by eight per cent, whereas cost of production went up by 28pc at the start of the season. Mid-season fertiliser crisis must have added another 15 to 20pc to the cost.

The weather was also not kind at the beginning of the season either. The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) reported 28pc water shortage and the meteorological officials had predicted November and December as dry months. Punjab, nevertheless, tried its best. It arranged and subsidised certified seed, weedicides for three million acres and rusticides,

besides engaging students and farmers. However, competition was too strong to have an easy win, he accepted.

Abad Khan, a farmer, thinks the department is defying mathematical logic in claiming wheat acreage. He says the maize crop is expanding, potato has not lost the area, the oil seed crops are expanding and officials are claiming sugarcane to be bumper this season, where has area for wheat come from? The Punjab government is also issuing self-congratulatory messages for increasing oil seed crops, because it is running equally energetic campaign for it, for import substitution, he adds.

“The farmers have their doubts as far as this figure in concerned,” he says. How much these acres would yield is an entirely different debate. It has been grossly imbalanced application

of fertiliser. After two dry months, the wet cycle has been dominating the show. The crop got very little sun in the last month or so, making nonsense of the urea and weedicides application. Now, the fears are about March, when the Met Office has warned of highly wet cycle, exposing the crop to the danger of lodging. Keep your fingers crossed, he advises.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2022

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