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Unseasonal rain effect: Potatoes become dearer, selling at Rs40/kg in retail

Even if there is lower area for winter potato in West Bengal, it would not be more than 10% from a normal of 4 lakh hectare, said Chakrabarti. But, the delay in planting might result in lower productivity, he said.

By Prabhudata Mishra

After onion, another staple potato is also turning dearer. For the first time at least in a decade, mandi prices of potato have risen in December from the previous month, helping farmers to earn higher returns on the crop. Consumers in some parts of the country are currently paying as high as Rs 40/kg in retail markets while the average price during corresponding period in recent years used to be half this level.

The current upward trend has baffled experts who did not see any concrete reason for the price spiral as the country should have enough stocks of the vegetable,with a record output of 53 million tonne in 2018-19.

The all India average price of potato was about Rs 1,360/quintal during December 1-23, against Rs 749 in the year-ago period. This year, prices have jumped from an average Rs 1,010/quintal in October to Rs 1,140/quintal in November after production was hit due to unseasonal rains. Potato is now sold at Rs 40/kg in retail market in the National Capital Region, whereas the vegetable was sold at Rs 15-20/kg a few months ago.

Farmer leader and coordinator of All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti V M Singh said he would appeal farmers not to sell below certain price when new potato crop will come. Though he was not sure how effective that would be, but he said “time has come farmers should fix their crop price.”“The upward trend may be temporary and a real picture will emerge when the main winter crop will start arriving from end of January,” said SK Chakrabarti, director of Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI). The winter crop has a share of about 80% in the total production and has been kept in the cold stores for use throughout the year.

There are several factors attributed to the price rise seen in the retail market. The arrival of early rabi crop (60-day duration) was in fact delayed by 20-25 days (normally planted around end of September and harvested from November-end). Also, some areas in Karnataka were damaged by rains in September that lowered the output, traders said. Besides, there is apprehension of a lower crop next year as many farmers in West Bengal have shifted to short-duration paddy in place of potato that resulted in lower acreage in the state.

Even if there is lower area for winter potato in West Bengal, it would not be more than 10% from a normal of 4 lakh hectare, said Chakrabarti. But, the delay in planting might result in lower productivity, he said. Farmers are still planting potato and it will take at least 60 days to mature for yielding 20 tonne/hectare, he added. West Bengal is the second biggest producer of potato with an average yield of around 32 tonne per hectare.

Uttar Pradesh, the biggest producer, might also see about 5% fall in acreage this winter due to delayed harvest in kharif season, experts said. The production in the state was estimated at 18-20 million tonne last year. Since, most of the output goes to cold stores, there should have been enough supply to check any price rise, at least in the North.
According to Sachid Madan, chief executive of ITC’s Fresh & Frozen business division, there are multiple factors that support the current potato prices. As prices of other vegetables are also higher this season, this was supporting potato, he said. However, the current prices will not be the norm when the rabi crop will come to the market and farmers will be happy if they get Rs 7-8/kg considering they received `4-5/kg in the previous season, he added.

Of the total annual production, the actual domestic consumption is estimated at 40 million tonne while 10% each shared by seeds and losses in cold store. While 5% of the output goes for processing, only a few lakh tonne are exported, trade sources said.

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Source: Financial Express