By Mohiuddin Aazim

PAKISTAN IS expecting a bumper cotton and sugarcane crop this year – thanks to a larger area under cane cultivation and a projected rise in per acre yield of cotton.

Rainfall from mid July till now have also somewhat mitigated fears of far below average monsoon rains and the country looks set to meet rice production target of 6.9 million tons.

Officials of provincial agricultural departments say that information reaching them from paddy fields indicates that output of Basmati and non-Basmati rice would be around seven million tons this year.

This optimism contrasts the latest output estimates of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which indicates that the country would produce about 6.27 million tons of rice. (The FAO report released on August 10 cut Pakistans paddy projection by 1.4 million tons to 9.4 million tons. This translates into 6.27 million tons of milled rice).

“There is always a time lag of few weeks between data gathering and the release of the report. The FAO has apparently based its latest forecast on mid-July statistics. And, of course, we too believed in mid-July that rice production would be somewhere between 6.25 and 6.50 million tons,” a senior official of the Ministry of Food Security and Research told this scribe.

“But in the second half of July and in the entire month of August we saw more rainfall than expected earlier and our feedback from provincial agriculture departments suggests that rice output would not be less than seven million tons.”

Rice growers and government officials in Sindh, however, say that production of coarse rice in the province would remain below expectations because of severe water shortage during the period when paddy nurseries were to be lifted for replanting in paddy fields.

Officials say that information reaching them from paddy fields suggests that Basmati crop is going on well as it was sowed on a bigger area and its saplings have got enough water due to late sowing, adding that Basmati production would be larger than expected. Naval Das, a leading rice trader based in Ghoti, told this scribe on telephone that whereas paddy of non-Basmati rice would be ready for thrashing in Sep and coarse rice of new crop available in market in early October, growers would harvest Basmati varieties in October and its marketing would start sometime in early November.

Sindh had produced 2.26 million tons rice in the last cropping year including 1.4 million tons of Irri, 0.7 million tons of hybrid varieties and 0.1 million tonnes of Basmati.

“Our initial estimate is that well have 1.2-1.4 million tons of Irri, about one million tons of hybrid and at least 1.5 million tons of Basmati this year,” said an official of the Sindh Agriculture Department.

“The only problem is that supplies of new rice crop would reach the market a bit late due to delayed sowing.” Up to August 1 this year, rice sowing was completed on 72 per cent of the targeted area whereas by the same date last year growers had covered 88 per cent of the targeted area.

The information gathered from sugarcane growers and officials of agricultural departments suggest that cane output during this year would be around 60-62 million tons against 58 million tons of last year. Cane growers in Sindh say they have cultivated sugarcane on larger areas, encouraged by the increase in support price and are hoping to harvest a better crop this year. They say that farmers in Khairpur, Naushero Feroze, Nawabshah, Tando Mohammad Khan and Badin, all five major cane producing districts, have cultivated the crop in a larger area than in the previous year and the crop in these districts is progressing well.

Growers in Punjab are also optimistic about producing more cane for the same reason as well as after the recent rainfall (between mid-July and August) that is likely to strengthen the crop and push up the per acre yield.

A progressive cane grower in Badin said that cane fields were facing water shortage both on account of delayed and inadequate rains in the province as well as due to prolonged power outages that stop operations of tube wells. But he too sounded optimistic about a larger crop – somewhere between 13-14 million tons-against last years 10 million tons.

Agriculturists say though the area under cultivation of this years cotton crop is slightly less than that of the last year, they hope to harvest up to 16 million bales in 2012-13 against 14.8 million of 2011-12. (Suparco has forecast 15.8 million bales based on its satellite imagery analysis done at the end of July).

According to Ghulam Rabbani, a cotton expert and executive member of Pakistan Yarn Merchants Association, growers have sown more of biotech and new varieties of cotton this year which is expected to raise per acre yield. He also says that delayed monsoon rains in most parts of Sindh and in some parts of the Punjab province have been good for maturing cotton crop.

But some Punjab-based growers say that cotton crop has already come under attack of curl leaf virus, adding that they are trying to save the crop from the consequent damage. They complain that field officers of provincial agricultural department are not cooperating with them in the fight against the virus and fear that this would ultimately affect cotton output.

Last year Punjab had produced 12.13 million bales-up 50 per cent from a year earlier. “But this year growth would be 10-20 per cent if everything goes well,” says commodity analyst Muhammad Asif.

He says that a much higher growth in cotton production – up to 40 per cent-would be seen in Sindh this year. “The reasons are multiple including a low output base of the last year, generally favourable weather, application of enough pesticides and fertiliser and involvement of owners of new ginneries in big-scale cotton growing.”

Whereas global output of cotton and rice this year has been projected higher than in the last year, sugarcane production is set to decline by at least five per cent. Exporters say a bigger cotton crop would save foreign exchange spending on imported raw cotton (as was the case in the last fiscal year) and adequate paddy and sugarcane output would leave larger exportable surplus of milled rice thus having a positive impact on food trade balance.

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