LAHORE: The Punjab agriculture authorities estimate that 5 to 6pc of wheat crop worth Rs23bn has been damaged due to recent heavy rains and hailstorms in many districts of the province.

The wet spells and windstorms battered a number of districts during the last two weeks, leading to the lodging (falling of plants to the ground) of around 50pc of the standing crops. Farmers, however, estimate the lodging ratio up to 70pc.

Lodging means the permanent displacement of crop stems from their vertical position as a result of stem buckling and/or root displacement due to heavy winds during rains and hailstorms.

As per data of the agriculture department, of 16.014 million acres of the area under wheat 0.8m acres was partially damaged and 30,000 acres was fully damaged due to inclement weather up till March 30, 2023. More hailstorms occurred in some districts of south Punjab on April 2.

Agri authorities estimate 5 to 6pc damage to crop

Punjab Crop Reporting Service Director Dr Abdul Qayyum says the worst-hit areas were Sheikhupura and Nankana Sahib districts where the crop losses were estimated around 40pc, followed by Muzaffargarh (14.8pc), Sahiwal (14pc), Toba Tek Singh (12.9pc), Okara (12.5pc), Bhakkar (10.5pc), Pakpattan (10.2pc), while losses in five districts were less than 10pc and at other places insignificant. His office assesses a 20pc production loss in partially damaged areas, bringing the average output from 31 maunds per acre in normal conditions to 24 maunds per acre. The total production loss as per the available data, he estimates, will be 236,000 tonnes worth Rs23bn (at a rate of Rs3,900 per 40kg).

Wheat is a key staple in Punjab and the crop damage scenario comes against the backdrop of persisting high inflation and global food security woes amid geopolitical uncertainties.

Farmers groups, however, dispute the loss figures, claiming that the damage was more than the official estimates.

Kissan Ittehad Pakistan president Khalid Mahmood Khokhar tells Dawn by phone that during his travel by road from Multan to Islamabad, he is finding wheat crop flattened all along the way across various districts.

Endorsing his views, Kissan Board Pakistan president Chaudhry Shaukat Chadhar says 70pc of the crop has been flattened by hailstorms and winds in certain areas and fears the per acre yield losses up to 15 maunds. He says the crop was doing fairly well and unlike last year, the weather was favourabe, helping the grain to develop. Light rain spells in early March helped provide nitrogen from the atmosphere to the plants, making up for the short application of phosphorus fertilisers but the recent rains and windstorms devastated vast swathes of lands, dashing the hopes of the farming community to reap a good harvest.

Mr Chadhar says the lodging of the crop would rob the plants to supply food to grain, causing them to shrink thus leading to a low yield.

Dr Javed Ahmad, the director of the Wheat Research Institute, Faisalabad, says lodging never means total loss of the crop. He says if plants survive even at 30pc angle to ground, there is not much to worry about but if the plants are totally flattened to the wet ground, then they begin to decompose. He says the worrying time for the crop was during the last week of January and first week of February when the average temperature this season was 5.9 degrees Celsius more than the average temperature during the same period last year.

Dr Ahmad says if care is not taken in harvesting the lodged crop, it will lead to further 10pc loss in the yield.

“As combined harvesters cannot reap the flattened crop, the farmers should arrange manual labour for the purpose,” he suggests.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2023

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