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What slow rabi crop sowing tells us about Agriculture in India

Image The slow progress in sowing of the rabi, or the winter crop, has more to it than meets the eye. As of last week, crop sowing stood at 47.61 million hectares, the slowest in at least four years. But recent years have seen late summer crop harvests, delaying swing of the rabi crop. So the final figures may perk up.

Even so, the delay in sowing underscores weak farmer sentiments towards rabi crops. Analysts’ interactions at a large agriculture exhibition in Pune last week reveal only a slight growth in farm income this year. Profitability was weighed down by low yields (impacted by deficient rains) and rise in inputs costs, namely labour and agrochemicals, point out analysts at Elara Securities (India) Pvt. Ltd.

An analysis by Crisil Ltd corroborates this.

“Lower cash in the hands of farmers has also impacted rabi sowing this year,” the rating agency said in a note. “Even though mandi prices of major crops during this period (1 September to 15 December) have increased, arrivals of these crops have declined. This is despite ~1% rise in kharif production this year (according to the first advanced estimates),” it says.

With the water availability situation seeing no material improvement, expectations about the current crop season are tempered. After all, rainfall was deficient in a few regions in Maharashtra and water reservoir levels have been low.

As of last week, live storage at major reservoirs stood at 57% of total capacity, lower than 58% in 2017 and 61% in 2017.

The subdued sentiments do not bode well for the agriculture-related sectors and industries. “Unless the sowing situation improves in the next few weeks, there could be a trickle-down effect on the sectors being driven by rural India,” warns Crisil research.

Worryingly, sowing is lagging in large agriculture inputs user states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, analysis by Crisil research shows.

Tracking the weak outlook for rabi crop some analysts are paring their expectations.

“Maharashtra contributes 13-15% revenue of India’s agrochemicals companies. With several districts declared drought-affected, we expect agri-input sales to be adversely affected, which would result in lower overall sales growth for the industry,” analysts at Elara Securities add.

But the impact will not be confined to just agrochemicals. Any notable reduction in rural incomes can impact discretionary spends weighing on sales of automobiles and consumer goods.