With the mercury dipping to record low in Kutch, farmers and agricultural scientists are apprehensive that the frost accumulating on Rabi crops would adversely affect yields.
Temperature fell as low as 1.4 degrees Celsius in Naliya—the headquarters of Abdasa taluka—in the western part of Kutch on January 15. As a result, frost was observed in mustard and maize fields, especially in talukas of Rapar and Bhachau in the eastern Kutch. The cold wave has persisted despite the mercury touching 3.8 degrees Wednesday.
“The extreme cold weather is adversely impacting the unirrigated cotton crops. Farmers are also complaining about pomegranate fruits bursting and flowering in mango orchards being hampered by the extremely cold weather,” said Shyamji Mayatra, a farmer and the vice-president of Gujarat unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS).
Agricultural officer of Kutch district, Kiransinh Vaghela, said crops like mustard, castor and maize that have broad leaves are especially vulnerable. “Dew accumulates and freezes on these leaves. The frost can cause the leaves to fall eventually, adversely affecting the crop,” Vaghela said, adding, “However, there has been no reports of any large-scale damage in the form of crops wilting. It is a relief that the temperature is increasing gradually.”
This year, the Kutch farmers have sown Rabi or winter crops in 1.54 lakh hectares. Cumin (jeera) is the largest crop with an area of 43,500 hectares (ha), followed by mustard (30,700 ha), fodder (29,700 ha), vegetables (6700 ha), isabgol (6000 ha), fennel (2800 ha) and onion (300 ha).
“While frost was seen on polished and hard surfaces on January 15, I have not observed any adverse impact of the low temperatures on my castor and wheat crops,” Mahendrasinh Jadeja, a farmer from Nani Vamoti village of Abdasa, said.
Scientists say that moderately low temperatures in the range of 10 to 15 degrees bode well for winter crops. “The Rabi crops per say grow well in the cold weather. But extreme cold waves like the one being witnessed these days can harm crops,” Amin Sipai, assistant research scientist at Bhachau Regional Research Station of Sardarkrushinagar Dantiwada Agricultural University (SDAU), said. “The jeera crop, which is at the grain-filling stage, is vulnerable to fungal and bacterial disease. The accumulation of moisture in the form of frost or dew on cumin seeds can lead to such diseases and damage the crop,” Sipai added.
Similarly, temperature in the range of 15 to 20 degrees is ideal for mustard, he said, adding the lower temperature can affect yields.
The scientist said they have been advising farmers to irrigate their crops, save jeera and also create smokescreens over their fields to counter the low temperatures. “Smokescreen will prevent accumulation of dew on leaves,” Sipai said.
Meanwhile, BKS’s Mayatra demanded that farmers be supplied power during the day so that they can escape the cold wave. “Today, the government ordered the schools to start two hours late. This is a welcome step for children. Similarly, farmers should also be given power during daytime so that they don’t have to brave cold weather for irrigating their crops at night,” Mayatra said.