Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

watermelon - watch ur melon

as briefly touched in previous post, watermelon (WM) has been a money spinner to farmers this year.
one of the obvious reasons has been the relentless heat right from Jan 2016 onwards, keeping the demand high through this year's 3 odd months.

it is also a fact that WM has not been this big a hit since 2011.  so it could just be an one-in-five year blip.

WM growing and economics - circa 2009 - from the TamilNadu Agriculture University (tnau) website, gives a complete breakdown of growing/chemicals used/yields/revenue-expenses-profit calculations.
careful reading of the above, clearly shows the regularity and intensity of use of chemicals over the 65-75 day growing period.
and the costs of these chemicals is approx Rs. 25000 out of a total of Rs 45000.
the farmer misses out on seed cost which is pretty high.
this year farmers in our area have made a profit of around Rs.50000-75000/acre. these kind of figures are impossible with regular-joe crops like grains/millets/oilseeds.

WM growing fields used to be a classic ridge-furrow system with flood-watering in the furrows once a week or so.
since the advent and growing popularity of drip irrigation and plastic sheet mulching, most WM growing is now by this system.
just image search for "watermelon sheet mulch" to get a sense of how WM field looks like.
and the drip irrigation ensures that all the growth-promoting chemicals are delivered right at the root zone of the plant.

this type of mulching lasts for 2 crops (i.e., 5 months) on an average and then is gathered and burnt and the process is repeated the next season.
hence there is a slow but steady influx of plastic particles into the soil.

that the final WM fruit is riddled with multiple chemicals is a undeniable fact. it is also true that the WM farmers barely eat their own output. even the local villagers are now wise to the fact of these WMs ill effects. it is not uncommon to see fields strewn with "off-spec" WM (misshapen, too small, etc.) and no takers for them, not even cattle.

we avoid WM unless we grow them.
readers are advised to be careful, very careful when it comes to eating this fruit.

regular readers may recall - watermelon bonanza from 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

ruin after the rain - part II

it was forecast to be a poor farming season early march.

looking at predictions vs actuals:
Pr: "it is only around 90 days since the rains stopped and already the well levels have dropped alarmingly. the lakes/tanks of the area will barely be able to cover one cropping season (till april end or so)."
Act: tanks dried up early april itself. wells were brought into service and those without that facility had to pay for it.

Pr: "paddy crop seems relatively less affected but due to oversupply offtake prices are likely to be depressed for paddy." as if this was not adequate misery, the farm lease rates and the daily agri labour rates had also gone up by 25-50%.

Act: last year paddy price was Rs 1000-925 (max-min) for 80 kgs. this year it was Rs 900-700. in fact as of today, there are no buyers even for rock bottom rates.
had last year's rates held, the farmer would have made Rs 5000/acre profit (best case - maybe 2% of the farmers) but at the prevailing off take prices now the average farmer would have  made a loss of Rs 5000/acre. a farmer who took a nearby 2.5 acre farm on lease took home a loss of 20k for his work from dec to march! makes us wonder why farmers bother to grow paddy at all.
a high level local trader was lamenting that his stock levels was not moving to the next stage (rice mills) and was likely to make serious losses!!

another statement: "in our 6 years, we have never seen pesticide sprays on groundnut crop (no. 1 cash crop of this area). already farmers (with cash) have resorted to 3 sprayings, and everyone at least 1. and this has barely had any effect."
Act: groundnut prices are better than last year. before you rejoice, the yields have dropped dramatically - by almost 50% on an average. and so is the case with pigeon pea, black gram and green gram. almost certainly entirely attributable to the pest attack.
so again the farmer gets rogered.

wait. some farmers did have it good this season. the watermelon growers. it was not just good, it was a bonanza for them. with scorching heat right from early march and no rain in the season, there was no shortage of demand. prices and yields were good throughout. average profits were almost Rs 1 lac/acre. more about this in another post.

net result: the season has been an unmitigated disaster. taking a crop holiday and earning as agri labour would have been the best option.