Exclusive: Why There Has Been Unseasonal Rain In May, How It May Affect Crops And Inflation

Unseasonal Rain In May: Northwest India, central India and the southern peninsula received higher-than-normal rainfall from April 27, 2023, to May 3. In the first three days of May, these regions received 18 per cent, 268 per cent, and 88 per cent higher-than-normal rainfall, respectively. As a whole, the country received 28 per cent higher-than-normal rainfall during this period, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

These unseasonal rains resulted in the second coldest May Day for Delhi in 13 years. But the crops that are yet to be harvested, and the plants which are currently being grown, will be affected due to these unseasonal rains, according to experts.

Scientific reasons behind the unseasonal rain, and the role of climate change

Due to the influence of the western disturbance, which is a weather system bringing in moisture from the Mediterranean region, Delhi saw the second coldest May Day in 13 years. The combined influence of the western disturbance and Cyclone Tauktae resulted in the unprecedented rainfall received in May. 

“Delhi saw the second coldest May Day in 13 years due to the influence of the western disturbance, which is a weather system that brings in moisture from the Mediterranean region. This weather system led to cloudy skies, intermittent rainfall, and relatively cooler temperatures. North India received unprecedented rainfall in May due to the combined influence of the Western Disturbance and Cyclone Tauktae, which led to an increase in moisture content and atmospheric instability, resulting in heavy rainfall. The changing climate is playing a role in these events by causing an increase in extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, and droughts. As the climate continues to warm, these extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and intense, leading to greater variability in weather patterns,” Dr Anjal Prakash, Research Director, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business and IPCC Author, told ABP Live.

Western disturbances bring precipitation to North India between October and April each year. Depending on their intensity, duration and location, western disturbances can result in rain, snowfall, cold waves, and even flash floods in the region.

“Due to the western disturbances, a cyclonic circulation has developed over central Pakistan, and adjoining west Rajasthan, in the upper and lower parts of the atmosphere. The western disturbances have also formed cyclonic circulations over southwest Uttar Pradesh and south Chattisgarh. The induced circulation over central Pakistan and west Rajasthan, and the cyclonic circulations over southwest Uttar Pradesh and south Chattisgarh have contributed to the increased rainfall and a drop in temperature in North India,” Dr Vivek Gupta, Assistant Professor, IIT Mandi, told ABP Live.

He explained that induced circulation is an event that refers to the development of a cyclonic circulation or trough in the lower levels of the atmosphere under the influence of a western disturbance.

“The role of climate change on the occurrence of western disturbances is still unclear. Some studies suggest a weakening in the frequency while others suggest slight increase. More research is required to answer this accurately,” Dr Gupta said.

While the heat spell this year was less compared to last year, it lasted for a longer duration. The heat spell last year was not followed by unseasonal rains, but this is not the case this year. These changing weather patterns are indicative of the climate emergency that we are in, according to experts.

“Last year, there was a heat spell which affected the wheat crop. However, the heat spell was not followed by unseasonal rains. This year, the heat spell is a little less compared to last year. But the heat spell this year was for a longer duration, and lasted 30 to 35 days. The weather patterns are changing, and the monsoon is likely to be impacted this year due to the El Niño effect. The rising sea temperatures are rising and unseasonal rains are all indicative of the climate emergency we are in,” Devinder Sharma, leading agriculture, food policy expert, researcher and writer, told ABP Live. 

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How these unseasonal rains will affect the Rabi crops that are yet to be harvested, Kharif sowing, and the crops currently being grown

Rabi crops, or winter crops, are the crops that are grown in India during winter, between the months of October and December, and are harvested from April to June. Wheat, barley, pulses, mustard and linseed are examples of Rabi crops. The Rabi crops that have not yet been harvested might be affected by the unseasonal rains, and some loss may occur due to poor storage conditions. 

Unseasonal rains have delayed the harvest of wheat in Punjab and Haryana, and there is a quality drop in the crop. 

“Harvest in Punjab and Haryana has been delayed due to unseasonal rains. There is a quality drop in the wheat crop due to these changing weather patterns. As a result of the delayed harvesting and drying, there is delayed procurement. Normally, everything is packed by this time. This year, roughly half the crops are gradually coming in. Due to the delayed harvest, there is a major shortfall in wheat,” Sharma said.

He also explained that the quality of some Rabi crops has degraded due to changing weather patterns. “There is a quality loss in Rabi crops. For instance, there is a blackening of grains.”

According to Professor Mahesh Prashad Gupta (Retd.), Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Jabalpur, some loss of Rabi crops may occur due to poor storage facilities.

Dr Gupta said that the places where Rabi crops have not yet been harvested may experience minor damage.

“In Punjab, there is an eight per cent shortfall in the production of wheat due to changing weather patterns. In Haryana, there is a 12 per cent shortfall in the production of wheat,” Sharma said.

Kharif crops, or monsoon crops, are the crops that are cultivated in India during the monsoon season, in the months of June and July, and are harvested from September to October. Rice, maize, bajra, soybean and cotton are some examples of Kharif crops. 

This year, Kharif sowing may be delayed due to the unprecedented rainfall received in May, Dr Prakash said. Crops such as rice, maize and cotton, which require well-drained soil for optimal growth, are likely to be affected the most due to unseasonal rain. The total area sown may also be less this year due to a potential delayed Kharif sowing. 

“The unprecedented rainfall in May is likely to impact Kharif sowing by delaying it, as farmers will have to wait for the fields to dry up before sowing can begin. Rice, maize, and cotton are likely affected the most, as these crops require well-drained soil for optimal growth. Bajra and soybean may be less affected, as they can somewhat tolerate excess water. The delay in sowing may also lead to a reduction in the total area sown, which could impact the overall production of these crops. This could lead to food inflation, as the reduced production could lead to higher prices for these crops,” Dr Prakash said.

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The crops that are being sown currently are called Zaid crops. These are the crops which are grown for a short period of time between Kharif and Rabi crops. They are mainly grown from March to June, and are called summer season crops. Zaid crops need warm, dry weather for proper growth, and longer day length for flowering. Watermelon, muskmelon, cucumber, tomato, pumpkin, bitter gourd, pepper, some oilseeds, and some coarse cereals such as maize, sorghum, oats and barley are examples of Zaid crops.

Zaid crops are likely to be affected due to unseasonal rains received in the month of May. This is because Zaid crops require higher temperatures and drier conditions to grow, compared to Kharif and Rabi crops.

The unseasonal rains might increase the moisture content of the soil to a point beyond the amount required by Zaid crops. Therefore, unseasonal rains can disrupt the equilibrium of the conditions required for the growth of Zaid crops.

“We still have to see what the effect of these unseasonal rains on Zaid crops will be,” Sharma said.

There is a possibility that Zaid crops will have a delayed harvest due to unseasonal rains.

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Soil condition in different parts of India due to unseasonal rainfall

Factors such as soil type, drainage and topography will determine how the soil condition in different parts of the country will be affected by unseasonal rains. Soils can be well-drained or poorly-drained.

“Due to the unusual rainfall, the soil condition of different parts of the country will likely vary depending on factors such as soil type, drainage, and topography. In areas with well-drained soils, the excess rainfall may have led to leaching of nutrients and increased soil erosion. In areas with poorly-drained soils, the excess water may have led to waterlogging and reduced aeration, which can impact crop growth. In some areas, the rainfall may have replenished soil moisture, which can benefit crop growth in the long run,” Dr Prakash explained.

Prashad Gupta said that the unseasonal rain has benefited some farmers because of replenishing the moisture in the soil. “This also helped in early ploughing of fields to prepare for the next season.”

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Indian crops that are most likely to be damaged due to unseasonal rains, and how this can drive inflation

Since Zaid crops do not require much moisture, they are most likely to be affected by the unseasonal rains. Also, Kharif crops such as rice, maize and cotton, which require well-drained soils for optimal growth, can be damaged due to excess water.

“The crops likely to be most affected due to the unprecedented rain are rice, maize, and cotton, which require well-drained soils for optimal growth. These crops are likely to be damaged due to the excess water, which can lead to reduced plant growth, increased incidence of pests and diseases, and even plant death in extreme cases. This could drive food inflation, as reduced production could lead to higher prices for these crops. Other crops, such as bajra and soybean, may be less affected, as they can tolerate excess water,” Dr Prakash explained.

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How farmers are adapting to changing weather patterns

Crop diversification, drought-resistant crop varieties and improved water management practices are some strategies being adopted by farmers to adapt to climate change-induced changing weather patterns.

“Farmers are adapting to these changes in weather patterns by adopting various strategies such as crop diversification, drought-resistant crop varieties, improved water management practices, and weather forecasts to plan their farming activities. Many farmers also use techniques such as conservation tillage and cover cropping to improve soil health and reduce soil erosion. However, the effectiveness of these strategies depends on factors such as availability of resources and access to information and technology. Therefore, government support and policies are crucial in helping farmers adapt to changing weather patterns and mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture,” Dr Prakash said.

Conservation tillage is a tillage and planting technique that covers 30 per cent or more of the soil surface with crop residue, after planting of crops, to reduce the impact of water and wind erosion, according to the Conservation Technology Information Centre, an Indiana-based organisation that provides technical and educational support to agricultural and conservation communities in the United States. 

Cover cropping is a technique in which crops are planted to cover the soil, not with the intention of being harvested, but to slow down erosion, improve soil health, help control pests and disease, enhance water availability, smother weeds, and increase biodiversity, according to the official website of Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a program established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Citing an example of farming practices adopted in Himachal Pradesh, Dr Gupta said: “A few farmers, especially around the IIT Mandi area, have installed their own pipes for irrigation. This helps them to schedule their irrigation based on need.”

Scientific advances that can benefit Indian agriculture

Shifting weather patterns have changed the growth period of major Indian crops such as wheat. Therefore, seed varieties that allow wheat to grow in a short period of time can help farmers.

“Every crop has a growth period. Wheat is sown in the months of October and November, and is harvested in April. The natural growth period of wheat is roughly six months. Due to the changing weather patterns, the duration in which wheat matures has decreased. Therefore, there is a need for scientists to develop seed varieties of wheat which can grow in a short duration,” Sharma said.

He concluded that the scientific community needs to focus on climate change and develop seed varieties in accordance with the changing climate.

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