Reacting to relatively better price realisation as compared to other varieties of pulses, farmers had till last week planted gram (chana) on around 1.3 million hectares, around 14 per cent more than in the same period last year.
Trade sources said some shift in acreage towards gram might also happen from mustard, as oilseed rates had plummeted in the kharif harvest season due to stock overhang and less demand. How much area finally gets shifted will depend on how prices move after the recent decision to double the import duties on crude edible oils and how fast winter sets in over northern India. Favourable weather might cap a big shift.
According to government data, till Friday, mustard was sown on 5.13 million hectares, about 11.2 per cent less than in the same period last year. Overall, till last week, sowing of rabi crops was complete in about half the normal area, at 31.58 mn ha, marginally less than in the same period last year.
"Gram prices haven't dropped as sharply as other pulses varieties because the bulk of gram demand is from value-added industries like besan (chickpea flour) manufacturers. This is the main reason why farmers are going for gram this year," N P Singh, Director of the Kanpur-based Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), told Business Standard.
Gram occupies around 30 per cent of annual pulses production, the harvest being nine to 10 million tonnes.
Wheat, largest foodgrain grown during rabi, has been planted on around 11 mn ha or 12.4 per cent less than the area covered during the same period last year. A big drop in Uttar Pradesh is a prime reason, sowing being delayed in some parts due to warmer than usual weather and late clearance of the sugarcane crop.
"Farmers are waiting for the right moisture content in the soil before they start sowing wheat in full strength. Therefore, there is mild delay in some parts. However, there is no cause for worry and the crop will be sown on 30-31 mn ha, as every year," said R K Gupta, deputy director of the Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research.
In western Uttar Pradesh, late sown wheat is grown in almost 80 per cent of the cultivated area and much of sowing progress depends on sugarcane harvesting. The earlier the latter gets done, the quicker is wheat sown.
In total, oilseeds had been planted on 5.79 mn ha till last Friday, as against 6.39 mn ha during the same period last year.
Meanwhile, according to Central Water Commission data, water levels in 91 major reservoirs dropped two per cent during the week ending November 23, from the previous week. The storage was a cumulative 101.077 billion cubic metres on November 24 or 64 per cent of total capacity. Also, 96 per cent of the storage at the corresponding period last year and 95 per cent of the last 10 years' average.