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Another bumper wheat crop

March 04, 2012

HARVESTING of wheat is likely to start in a week in Sindh and growers are expecting more yield per acre and a bumper crop for the second consecutive year.

The province has crossed last year’s sowing target of 1.031 million hectares as, according to first estimate of the Sindh agriculture department, 1.047 million hectares are wheat cultivation this season.

Although land in some areas remained under rainwater pockets, growers are confident that better per acre yield would off-set the deficit in terms of uncultivated areas.

Rain had lashed areas on the left bank of the River Indus in lower Sindh inundating large swathes of agricultural lands. Growers couldn’t opt for October sowing of sugarcane, so they ultimately went for wheat sowing in late December.

At present, the Sindh government has a sizeable quantity of last year’s wheat stock. Out of it, flour mills and chakki owners are to get wheat for flour until the end March when new crop would be in the market. At present, a 100kg bag of wheat is sold at Rs2,550 in the market with per kg retail price of flour ranging between Rs28 and Rs29.

The province produced between 4- 4.2 million tons of wheat in 2011 Rabi thanks to huge silt deposits the Indus brought with it in katcha and the settled areas during super floods in August 2010.

The small storage capacity usually hits wheat storage process where only around 642,000 tons is stored and the rest is kept in flour mills or on elevated platforms in open space. The government has increased support price of wheat to Rs1050 from Rs950 this year. Given the existing sufficient stock and the arrival of new crop, the growers fear wheat prices would crash in the market if the stocks are not exported.

While the Sindh government is yet to decide about the procurement target, provincial food secretary Naseer Jamali says the issue is being discussed with agriculture and revenue officials. “Flour millers and chakki owners get wheat from government godowns until March 31. After meeting their needs the government will be in a position to fix the target.” Last year, the procurement target was fixed at 1.4 million tons, Jamali said.

The federal government has not yet decided to export wheat to Iran in exchange for oil/ ore imports offered by Teheran.

Senior vice-chairman of Wheat Traders Association of Pakistan (WTAP) Kaleem Baakza says Pakistan can’t compete with India in export of wheat because of huge difference in FOB price. Indian FOB price is $265 against Pakistan’s $300. “That’s why we say that government should allow the private sector to export wheat and the government should not leave it to Passco which has no expertise in export, import business.

His estimates show that 1.5 million tons of last year’s wheat stock can easily be sold to Iran which is in need of three million tons. But the government first needs to finalise its mechanism. He recalled that “One such export consignment of wheat by Passco to Iraq was marred by mismanagement and corruption which suggests that Passco should not be authorised to export wheat,” he added.

Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) general secretary Mehmood Nawaz Shah says “harvesting of wheat will begin in a week and the government is yet to decide the procurement target. He suggested itshould be around two million tons on the part of government.” Farmers agree to his suggestion to keep wheat prices stable.

Wheat crop is healthier given the size of grains this season. Extended winter season has benefited the crop. The crop needs four cycles of water until it is harvested. This year, by and large, water availability remained fair even in non-perennial areas. Abadgars say that in some areas the crop needs the fourth dose of water which will be of great help it if provided.