Now, moisture stress has farmers worried

Behind the ‘normal’ rainfall figures and the optimism of this year’s rainfall lies a deeper worry: moisture evaporating from the soil due to the erratic nature of the rains.

After intense rainfall in the first and second week of June, there has been an uneasy calm in the march of the monsoon. With no rains, moisture in the soil has reduced upsetting the water budgeting in the soil needed for cultivation.

The Moisture Adequacy Index (MAI), which tabulates the rates of evapotranspiration and gives an estimate of the moisture stress in the soil, shows that nearly 55% of the State’s soil is either moderately or severe stressed (moisture content in the soil is less than half of what is required).

This level of stress is comparable to that seen in 2017, when June and July were exceptionally dry before the deluge between August to September made up for the monsoon figures. Around the same time last year, the moisture stress was 59%.

Under these conditions, paddy and other crops will start to experience losses if these are already cultivated, says G.S. Srinivas Reddy, director, Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre, which oversees meteorological data and data from agriculture and irrigation to paint a picture of the State’s water situation.

This year, agriculture in vast swathes of the State, from Chamarajanagar to Bidar and from Kolar to Haveri, are experiencing threat.

“At 100% MAI, crops get the water they need to grow. But, less than 50% means water deficiency in rain-fed areas and there could be crop loss without rains in the coming week,” he said.

On the ground, there is already an indication of losses.

In many parts of Hyderabad Karnataka, after the initial spells of rains, red gram, pearl millet, sunflower and green gram were sown. Now, the region faces a rain deficit of more than 25%. “If the dry spell continues for another fortnight, the plants will start drying. Even the costs incurred on farm inputs, such as seed, fertilizers and labour, will be a burden for farmers,” Shreemanth Patil, a farmer from Aland in Kalaburagi district, said.

Delayed sowing

Similarly, in Tumakuru district, barely 77,000 out of 4.5 lakh hectares have been sown despite the meteorological figures stating that the rains are 28% above normal. “Sowing has been hampered as farmers generally start sowing after June 15. Nearly half the sowing period for crops such as groundnut has been lost,” said Joint director of Agriculture of Tumakuru district, Jayaswamy.

State secretary of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sanga, B.S. Devaraj, estimates that more than 90% of farmers have not sown ragi or groundnut. The seeds already sown in June have not germinated. “Seeds require moisture in the soil to germinate but due to lack of rains, the process has not taken place,” he said.

If the rains had been consistent, long-term ragi (of around 4.5 months) could have been sown. However, only if July has at least 15 days of rain, can farmers opt for short-term (3.5 months) ragi.

“In short-term ragi, there is 50% lower yield for farmers. Moreover, farmers have to begin the cultivation process again, leading to more losses,” said Mr. Devaraj.

In Belur, a village in Kalaburagi taluk, most of the 300 farmers have not begun sowing despite taking up sowing activities. “Sowing should have normally been completed by June 20. However, nobody in my village has sown due to monsoon failure. The situation continues, we will have a tough time this year,” Sharanabasappa, a farmer who has a Rs. 2 lakh loan on the balance. While the India Meterological Department’s forecast shows heavy rainfall in the coast and Malnad districts, north-interior Karnataka is expected to remain largely dry, with rainfall only in isolated places.

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