Pakistan expected to harvest bumper wheat crop of 26mln tons this season


 LAHORE: The country is expected to harvest a bumper wheat crop of around 26 million tons during the current season – a figure, albeit a little short of annual target, is the highest ever – as increased fertiliser offtakes offset the low acreage impact.
The News surveys with farmers and agriculture experts across Punjab found that this year’s crop output may be close to 26 million tons against the target of 26.46 million tons despite lower acreage, water shortage and late sowing associated with marketing-related issues of sugarcane and cotton crops.
“If proven right, it will be the record output of wheat ever harvested in the country,” a senior official said. The expected crop production is equal or near to what was forecast by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (26 million tons) and United States Department of Agriculture (26.5 million tons).
Agriculture experts termed the highest fertiliser consumption as a major factor behind the healthy crop outlook. Fertiliser offtake offset negative impact of low acerage this year, they said. Above-average temperature and lingering water shortage are, however, still a source of concern for the farmers who fear that production might be hurt if the trend continues in the coming days.
A senior official of a Punjab agriculture department said wheat crop is likely to be around the last year’s level despite 400,000 acres less plantation this year.
“We are assuming about 19 million tons of wheat production (in the province) this year,” Zafar Yab Haider, director general at the provincial Agriculture Extension Department said. “Water shortage has been one of the biggest sources of concern, but two timely rains during dry period helped a lot in mitigating adverse effects of water shortage.”
Farmer Abbas Jaffar from Layyah said late sowing due to marketing issues of sugarcane and cotton exposed the crop to warm weather and water shortages. “Wheat crop is not so green this time around, which is a bit unusual thing,” Jaffar said. He was also wary of the low canal irrigation supplies, saying farmers had to rely on tubewell for supplementing water requirements that increased cost of production.
Another farmer Rao Afsar who belongs to Rajanpur said wheat crop, by and large, looks satisfactory. Water shortage has become one of the biggest challenges for the farmers.
“There was no rain during the sowing and plant growth period,” Afsar added. “Wet conditions can harm crop during the maturity stage in the coming weeks. So, we no more pray for the rain despite facing acute shortage of water.”
Shafiq Ur Rehman, a leading seed breeder from Khanewal said healthy crop with good yields are expected across Punjab.
“High temperature during the grain formation stage causes forced crop maturity but we had a plenty of sunshine hours in wheat season with cool nights, which have good positive effect on crop,” Rehman added.
Zafar Hayat, director at Farmers Associates Pakistan said high temperature and water shortage have strong effect on yields of all winter crops. “We cannot manage the temperature, but water can be managed in irrigated areas,” Hayat, who belongs to Multan, said. “So these factors will have more impact in barani areas than lands irrigated by tubewell or canal. …still it’s too early to assess the impact of temperature as night temperatures are still favourable.”
Muhammad Anjum, member of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council said wheat is highly vulnerable to heat stress.
“Warm temperature in central and southern parts in March can be a source of concern,” Anjum said. “Yes. Terminal heat problem is possible if temperature over 32 centigrade continues for a prolonged period in days to come. Another rain spell can reduce this issue.”
Hamid Malhi of Wheat Growers Association agreed that high temperatures in March harm production, “but presently not much effect was observed”. “No watering is needed after 20th. It is mostly over as far as maturity of crop is concerned,” Malhi added.
Khaleeq Arshad, former chairman of Pakistan Flour Mills Association said high temperature could badly affect quality of wheat grain. “However, it would be premature to say anything about negative impact of warm weather on standing crop,” Arshad added, endorsing a bright crop outlook.