LAHORE: Contrary to popular belief, agriculture officials believe the current rain spell has been more useful than harmful to the province’s vital wheat harvest.
According to a senior agricultural department official, hailstorm damage to wheat has been documented on just 123,000 acres, contrary to the popular notion that the Rabi crops in Punjab have been severely damaged as a result of the natural disaster.
Punjab has sown wheat on 16.041 million acres, a minor decline against the target of 16.48m acres to produce 21 million tonnes of grain set by the Federal Agriculture Committee for the 2022-23 season. The staple food has lost its acreage to oil seeds, sugarcane and potato.
In the 2021-22 season, the province produced 20.032 million tons of wheat out of a total national output of 26.393 million tons.
The official says that the lowering of temperatures in March because of the ongoing rains will help the grain develop further against its shriveling, as was witnessed during the same month last year due to heat stress.
He says that the wet spell, which is likely to continue for a couple of days, will also benefit the crop in rain-fed areas of the province that had been suffering from dry season for the last couple of years.
Both these factors, he claims, will make up for the losses to be suffered because of the lodging of the crop in some areas.
Farmers, however, are wary of the change in the meteorological calendar as erratic rainfall patterns, both temporally and spatially, are forcing a change in crop patterns. Temperatures rise earlier in the year, while rains come unexpectedly causing damage to standing or harvested crops. Short but intense winters are stunting the growth and reducing the yield of winter crops, including wheat. The difference between maximum and minimum temperatures in a 24-hours cycle creates an ambient environment for insects to flourish. There has been a surge in pest attacks, besides outbreaks of many fungal and bacterial plant diseases.
To encourage the farming community to grow more wheat and avoid feeding the raw crop to their cattle, the government announced a hefty minimum support price of Rs3,900 per 40 kg though the Crop Reporting Service had proposed the price to be Rs2857 40 kg as it estimated Rs2200 as the cost of production.
Meanwhile, at least 56 new seed varieties of wheat, rice, maize, potato, Raya, gram, peanut, sunflower, sesame, date, berseem, and others were approved for sowing at a meeting of the Punjab Seed Council here on Friday.
The meeting also sought DNA fingerprint reports of seven crops within 15 days and declared DNA fingerprinting as mandatory for the approval of new seed varieties to safeguard the rights of breeders.
Agriculture secretary Wasif Khursheed stressed developing quality seed varieties that give better yields for at least five years instead of going for quantity.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2023
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