Farmer Prashant Hangargekar at his soybean field in Hangarga village of Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district. Partha Biswas
At the time he had leased in 9 acres of land to grow soyabean — in addition to the sugarcane on his own four acres — Prashant Hangargekar was expecting an average yield upwards of 7 quintals per acre. However, when this farmer from Hangarga village in Osmanabad district’s Tuljapur taluka had finished harvesting by end-September, his total produce weighed just 30 quintals — less than 3.5 quintals per acre.
”The rains were good in June, which helped me to sow by the 10th. Last year, I had got 30 quintals from four acres of leased land. This time, I increased that to nine acres, but ended up harvesting the same quantity, as it hardly rained after June,” bemoans the 30-year-old, whose leased-in soyabean plot is a couple of kilometres from his own four-acre sugarcane holding. But unlike the latter, it has no irrigation facility, leaving the crop entirely at the mercy of the raid god.
The only consolation for Hangargekar is that he could sell his entire produce at Rs 3,200 per quintal last week. Although lower than the government’s minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 3,399 for the 2018-19 crop, it is well above the average Rs 2,200 rate that he had realised from selling the legume-oilseed at the Tuljapur market last October. “My total cost of seed, fertiliser, labour, harvesting-cum-winnowing operations and other inputs came to about Rs 90,000. The total realisation of Rs 96,000 left me with hardly Rs 6,000 in hand, whereas I would have earned over Rs 1.25 lakh at last year’s yields and this year’s prices. It is only the assured returns from sugarcane that will keep me going,” he adds.
For soybean growers in Marathwada, the hopes of a good agricultural year – in terms of both yields and prices – have been robbed by moisture stress due to a poor monsoon. Aggregate rainfall for the region during the southwest monsoon season (June-September), at 488.5 millimetres, was 32.3 per cent below the corresponding long period average of 721.1 mm. The deficiency was even higher in Beed (47.1 per cent), Aurangabad (43.5 per cent), Osmanabad (37.5 per cent), Latur (36 per cent) and Jalna (34.1 per cent), while not as much in the other three districts of the region: Nanded (15.1 per cent), Hingoli (18.4 per cent) and Parbhani (31.5 per cent).
But more than overall seasonal deficiency, it is the lack of post-sowing and germination rains that have impacted yields. Marathwada actually recorded surplus rainfall of 17.1 per cent in June, which turned into a deficit (below long period average) of 45.8 per cent in July, 6.3 per cent in August and a whopping 86.6 per cent in September. Most soyabean growers The Indian Express spoke to — especially in Latur and Osmanabad, where yields are usually 9-10 quintals per acre — have harvested just 5-6 quintals this year.
All of this comes, ironically, even as the crop in the rest of India — including in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region — is believed to be reasonably good. According to Manoj Basantlal Agarwal of Maharashtra Oil Extractions Pvt. Ltd, the losses in Marathwada will be offset by higher production from the soyabean growing areas of Vidarbha, mainly covering Washim, Buldhana, Yavatmal, Amravati and Akola districts. “We are expecting a bumper crop in this belt,” claims the managing director of the Mumbai-headquartered company that sells edible oil and meal under the Murli brand.
The Indore-based Soybean Processors Association of India (SOPA), too, has estimated the country’s soyabean production for the current year at 114.83 lakh tonnes (lt), a 37.4 per cent jump over the 83.56 lt of 2017-18. Output is expected to go up in the two major states of Madhya Pradesh (from 42 lt to 59.17 lt) and Maharashtra (from 29.06 lt to 38.35 lt), besides Rajasthan (7.5 lt to 9.45 lt), Karnataka (1.73 lt to 2.91 lt) and Telangana (1.05 lt to 1.57 lt). Marathwada seems an outlier, with the yields reported by farmers clearly below last year’s levels (although the SOPA data suggests otherwise).
The prospect of a bumper crop — as projected by the trade — is already weighing down the market. On Wednesday, soyabean traded at an average modal price of Rs 3,050 per quintal in Latur, compared to Rs 3,500-plus less than a month ago. In markets across MP, the oilseed is now quoting between Rs 2,800 and Rs 3,000, which is below the MSP.
That isn’t great news for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party ahead of Assembly elections not only in MP, but even Rajasthan, where the districts bordering the former — Jhalawar, Baran, Kota, Pratapgarh, Chittorgarh and Banswara — have significant soyabean-growing tracts.