Ludhiana: Farmer Amrinder Singh has his fingers crossed. An early harvest of wheat this year has given him hope of additional income through a summer crop before paddy cultivation begins mid-June. Singh has sown moong (green gram) seeds over two acres of land at Lakhwal village in Punjab’s Ludhiana district.
Moong usually means good income but the crop has its own risks. It is severely affected by rainfall, which means it has to be harvested before the rainy season.
“It is quite a gamble,” said 47-year-old Singh. “Many farmers like me have gone for moong this year because they see adequate time for it before the rainy season begins. This year, it has been possible because of the early wheat harvest.”
This year, Punjab witnessed wheat harvest at the onset of April, as against late in the month, which was the trend over the last several years, government officials told ThePrint.
Moong roughly has a 60-day cultivation cycle, which is why farmers across the state saw it as a good option to fill up the gap between wheat harvest and sowing of paddy. The result: Moong cultivation picked up in Punjab this year.
According to government records, summer moong cultivation in Punjab has touched 97,000 acres, almost double the 50,000 acres recorded last year.
Mansa district in Punjab leads the race in terms of sowing moong, with a recorded area of 25,000 acres. Moga comes second with 12,750 acres, followed by Ludhiana (10,750 acres), Bathinda (9,500 acres) and Sri Muktsar Sahib (8,750 acres), according to government records.
This month, an announcement by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab that it would procure all moong produce at Minimum Support Price (MSP) added to the hopes of farmers.
However, there has been criticism about the timing of the message. Had the announcement come earlier, more would have grown the crop, farmers say. They also point out that farmers who were propelled to grow moong after the announcement have done so at considerable risk due to the unique challenges of growing the crop.
An assurance from the government, but ‘a little too late’
On 6 May, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann announced that the state government would procure all moong produce this year at an MSP of Rs 7,275 per quintal, as fixed by the Centre. This is something that has not happened in the last several years, and farmers were almost entirely dependent on private players for selling moong.
Speaking to reporters at the time, Mann said that the decision on moong procurement was also made with a view to conserve groundwater and improve soil health through crop diversification.
Mann’s announcement came with the caveat that farmers would have to sow paddy of either the PR-126 or Basmati varieties in fields used for moong after its harvest. This is because these varieties mature more quickly and consume less water — a crucial factor for Punjab, which has a severe groundwater crisis.
Punjab, according to government officials and agriculture researchers, is caught up in a deleterious paddy-wheat monoculture that is taking a toll on the soil and is depleting water reserves.
Further, according to government estimates, the state produces barely 15 per cent of the total pulses it consumes and procures the rest from other states. This makes boosting moong cultivation more crucial for the state.
However, some farmers have pointed out that moong cultivation is risky business, and that the announcement should have been made more in advance of the rainy season.
“The government’s announcement should have come much earlier. For farmers who cultivated moong in early April by looking at the early wheat harvest, the risk is less. But farmers who decided to go for sowing moong after the government’s announcement, even though I don’t think there are too many of them, face an immense amount of risk,” Lakhvir Singh, a farmer based in Moga, said.
‘Time is the important factor here’
Achieving a successful moong yield can be quite a challenge.
Harvinder Singh, a 40-year-old farmer from Mehlo village in Ludhiana, expressed anguish over how, in the last few decades, there has been drastic change in weather patterns, which has pushed the usual wheat harvest time in Punjab to late April. This often does not leave enough room for the full harvest of a third crop between wheat and paddy.
Farmers across several districts in Punjab told ThePrint how they usually cultivate maize and bajra in summer, but often have to go for a premature harvest and sell the produce off as animal fodder. “The mid-April to mid-June period is usually an off-season for most crops,” Harvinder Singh said.
Some farmers do cultivate moong on a smaller scale in summer, but without much expectation in terms of yield because the last phase in the cultivation period often coincides with rainfall. In such instances, most of the moong crop gets converted into green manure, which adds value to the soil, they said.
Moong crop is known for fixing soil nitrogen. Even if the yield drops, the benefits of nitrogen fixing of soil transfers to the next crop — which is paddy for most Punjab farmers.
The last time that both Amrinder Singh and Harvinder Singh remember cultivating and selling moong in a mandi (agricultural produce market) was in 2014. That, too, was a year of slightly early wheat harvest, they recalled.
“Getting a successful moong yield is a big challenge. If it sees the light of the day, it is always good money. Time is the important factor here,” Amrinder Singh said.
Economics of moong
For farmers with their own land, the input cost of cultivating moong over one acre comes to Rs 8,000-9,000. The expense heads include seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, and labour. One acre usually gives a yield of five quintal moong.
Moong is one of the 23 major crops for which the Union government announces MSPs in order to insure farmers against any sharp fall in prices.
However, it is a policy measure, which essentially means that there is no legal obligation on the part of the government to buy all crops for which MSP is announced. There is also no legal obligation on private players to buy crops at MSP rather than the market price set by demand-supply dynamics.
Moong is one such crop on which government procurement is minimum, and farmer say they rely mostly on private players for selling their output.
While the MSP on moong increased from Rs 6,975 per quintal in 2018-19 to Rs 7,275 per quintal in 2021-22, according to Union government figures, many Punjab farmers told ThePrint that in years of a good yield they manage to get only around Rs 5,000 per quintal in the mandi.
In terms of income, this translates to about Rs 25,000 for an acre (assuming a yield of five quintals), against an input cost of Rs 8,000-9,000.
This year, the state government’s assurance of full procurement of moong at MSP has given farmers hope for higher income — if they succeed in taking the moong to the mandi before the rainy season. At MSP, it translates to around Rs 36,375 per acre for five-quintal yield.
But, because of the risks involved, the response to the announcement has been somewhat muted.
Manpreet Singh Grewal, advisor to Kisan Club, a farmers’ collective associated with Punjab Agriculture University, told ThePrint: “Crop diversification is extremely essential for Punjab. If the state government had made the announcement a month earlier or so, it would have led to more farmers going for moong cultivation this year.”
(Edited by Asavari Singh)