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Potato acreage down in top producing states

KOLKATA | NEW DELHI: Potato acreage across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — the major potato producing states — has been 5-7 per cent lower this year as last year's glut has forced farmers to pare acreage. Productivity and quality of the tuber are likely to suffer as farmers have used last year's carry over seed for this year's sowing.

Though the weather is favourable, trade sources have been unable to predict the crop size or how prices will move this year. Last year, prices had crashed and it was below cost of production at the farmgate level. Farmers took a severe hit due to glut which forced them to offload their produce at throwaway prices.

Uttar Pradesh had a bumper potato crop with production touching a record of 160 lakh metric tonnes in 2017. The Yogi Adityanath government had, for the first time, announced a minimum support (MSP) price of Rs 487/quintal and ordered for 1 lakh metric tonne purchase by the government, to help the 25 lakh potato growers of the state.

UP-based Rajesh Goyal, secretary, Federation of Cold Storage Associations of India, said: "Acreage will be down by 5per cent as there is no money left with farmers to sow fresh crop. Both cold storage owners and farmers suffered heavily last year. Potatoes were selling at ?1-4/kg instead of ?10/kg (wholesale market).

Farmers have landed in huge debt. Though the government had announced MSP, it was only effective between April 7 and May 7. It did not help potato farmers much."

West Bengal, the second largest producer, produced 110 lakh tonnes of potato, resulting in a glut. The Mamata Banerjee government declared transport subsidy for potato movement to other states. Despite that, 5 lakh tonnes of potatoes are still lying in cold storages.

Patit Paban De, president, West Bengal Cold Storage Association, said: "Acreage this year will be less at least by 5per cent. Moreover, sowing is completed every year by the first week of December. But it has been late by one month as rains in November had delayed harvesting of paddy crop. Farmers sow potatoes once paddy harvesting is over. Productivity may take a beating this year."

Given the low potato prices over the past two years, potato planting is expected to be lower by 5-10per cent with the maximum drop being in West Bengal. Around 20per cent of the planting has been delayed and chances are that we will have a lower crop unless the weather is favourable. A clearer picture will emerge by March, said Sachin Madan, director at Technico Agri Sciences, a subsidiary of ITC.

Sukhjit Singh Bhatti, owner of Jalandhar-based Bhatti Agritech which sells potato seeds, said it was a bad year for business.

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