Cotton yield in India is likely to decline this year to hit a three-year low due to crop damage following drought in its major growing states including Gujarat in Maharasthra, the two states jointly contributing half of India’s cotton output.
The Cotton Advisory Board (CAB) headed by the Textile Commissioner under the Ministry of Textiles, in its first estimate released this week, forecasts the yield to decline to 501.47 kg per hectare (ha) for the cotton season October 2018–September 2019 from 506.07 kg the previous year. As a result, average cotton output for the season is the lowest in three years. During the crop year 2016-17, the yield was reported at 459.2 kg per ha. With this, 2018-19 cotton season is set to become the second slowest year in nearly a decade.
To capitalise on benefits, such as procurement at minimum support price (MSP), offered by the government, farmers had brought additional area under this natural fibre last kharif sowing season. As a result, total acreage under the crop rose to 12.24 million ha from 10.83 million ha in 2016-17. Amid hope of a normal monsoon as forecast by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) at the start of the season, cotton output was forecast to breach several years’ record.
However, uneven distribution of monsoon rainfall in Gujarat -- deficient in cotton growing belts and surplus elsewhere -- coupled with drought in major cotton cultivating areas in Maharashtra such as Marathwada, is set to pull down India’s average yield this year.
The CAB estimates India’s cotton output at 36.1 million bales (1 bale = 170 kg) for 2018-19 compared with 37 million bales in the previous year. The statistics collated by the CAB showed Maharashtra as the least yielding cotton producing state in the India with an average productivity (yield) of 334.3 kg per ha this year compared to 343.48 kg last year.
“The Marathwada region in Maharashtra received extremely below average rainfall this monsoon (June-September 2018). Also, major cotton growing belts in Gujarat received deficient rainfall this year. We, therefore, estimate output at 32.5-33 million bales this year. In the case of normal November rainfall, cotton flowers can recover some lost yield in the third cycle which may result in a marginal decline in output this year,” said Biren Vakil, an analyst with Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd.
Despite IMD's estimation of normal rainfall at 92 per cent of the long period average (LPA) during the 2018 monsoon season, Maharashtra received very little rain, with drought-hit Marathwada getting just a little over 60 per cent of the LPA. As per the Maharashtra government’s assessment, nearly half the villages across the state faces drought this year.
Tamil Nadu has been projected as the highest yielding cotton producing state, with 728.57 kg per ha, despite having low acreage.
Private forecasters, meanwhile, estimate India’s total cotton output at 32.5-33 million bales for the crop year October 2018-September 2019, down from 36.5 million bales reported in the previous year. The premier industry body, the Cotton Association of India (CAI), in its October estimates, forecast cotton output at 34.3 million bales for the season 2018-19.
Deficient and erratic southwest monsoon followed by a long dry spell this winter season has impacted the standing crop. While the first cycle of cotton picking is over, the second and third cycles are likely to get impacted badly due to spoilage of flower buds.
Noticing the dry spell, CAI has revised the cotton crop estimate for Gujarat by 200,000 bales, Maharashtra and Karnataka by 100,000 bales each and Odisha 75,000 bales.
“Big cracks have developed in land across Saurashtra region due to lack of soil moisture following heat waves in the region. Therefore, second and third picking of cotton flowers looks impossible. Farmers have started uprooting plants and clearing the field for rabi crop sowing. Thus, sudden spike in cotton prices looks possible any time soon,” said Atul Ganatra, president, CAI.