India guards wheat crop after extreme heat scorched fields last year

Several parts of the country are witnessing unusually warm weather for this time of the year, including in the biggest wheat-growing areas

Pratik Parija | Bloomberg

Photo: Bloomberg

After an extraordinary heat wave smothered much of India last year and forced the country to restrict wheat exports, farmers are closely guarding their fields as the threat of another extreme weather event looms.
Several parts of the country are witnessing unusually warm weather for this time of the year, including in the biggest wheat-growing areas. The plants are reaching maturity or close to flowering, making them very sensitive to heat. High temperatures can result in output losses, the weather office has warned.

India’s wheat harvest is the biggest globally after China. It’s a staple in the local diet and important for food security. Any risk from the weather means production could decline for a second straight year, dealing a blow to efforts to keep domestic food costs under control. It will also keep the global wheat market tight amid dry weather in the US and the ongoing war in Ukraine. 
While India’s crop is in good condition for now, farmers need to water their fields frequently to prevent any yield losses, said Gyanendra Singh, head of the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research. They’re also advised to look out for pests and diseases that tend to thrive when the weather warms.

India wants to avoid a repeat of the situation last year, when a brutal heat wave scorched wheat fields and forced the government to impose a hasty ban on exports at a time when the world faced a shortage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. India is expected to extend the restrictions this year to keep the cost of staple foods in check ahead of elections in 2024.
The farm ministry forecasts wheat production will hit a record high this season. Despite that, domestic prices have stayed elevated. The average retail cost of wheat is about 19% higher than a year ago while flour prices have jumped 20%, according to the consumer affairs department. Officials have announced the sale of 5 million tons of wheat from state reserves to cool prices.

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With hot weather set to prevail, India has set up a panel to monitor the impact of rising temperatures on the wheat crop. Singh advised farmers to spray their crop with potassium chloride, a type of fertilizer, if temperatures rise above 30C (86F) in the day or 15C at night. 

First Published: Feb 22 2023 | 8:03 AM IST

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