Unseasonal rains and hail damage crops in India

Farmers were caught by surprise by the repeated rain and hail that has lashed fields full of mature crops. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Unseasonal rains and hailstorms have damaged ripening, winter-planted crops such as wheat in India’s fertile northern, central and western plains, exposing thousands of farmers to losses and raising the risk of further food price inflation.

Torrential rains on Sunday and Monday lashed Punjab, Haryana parts of Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh state – which account for the bulk of wheat output in India – flattening crops and flooding farms. India is the world’s biggest wheat producer after China.

Lower crop yields will cut India’s wheat output for the second straight year, making it difficult for the state-run Food Corporation of India to shore up its depleting stocks.

A sudden rise in temperatures hit the wheat crop earlier in March.

In 2022 a heatwave cut the country’s wheat production, forcing India to impose a ban to calm local prices which were already driven higher by limited supplies from the Black Sea region because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The wheat crop looked promising until early March, when the weather became unfavourable due to a rise in temperatures, said Mr Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer from the northern state of Punjab.

“Now, rains and hails have flattened the crop. It’s a double whammy for us,” added Mr Mann.

After a dry spell, untimely rains and hail began to hit winter-sown crops last week, just before harvesting begins.

Most farmers were caught by surprise by the repeated rain and hail that has lashed fields full of mature crops, raising concerns about quality degradation.

“The rains have wiped out our investment in crops and we are staring at major losses,” said Mr Buddha Singh from Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest wheat producing state.

Rains and hailstorms have also hit chickpea and potato crops, farmers said.

That could curtail production and lift food inflation, which the government and central bank have been trying to contain.

Although it is too early to know the extent of the damage, the government was assessing the situation and would try to help farmers, said a senior government official, who did not wish to be named in line with official rules. REUTERS

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