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Heat Wave & Agriculture Sector: Brace For The Impact

When temperatures are too high, Rabi crops can experience heat stress, which can lead to reduced growth, decreased yield, and even crop failure

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The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a special advisory on 20 February 2023, alerting the public to the possibility of warmer daytime temperatures across several areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Konkan and Goa. The following day, it released a new advisory informing people to expect higher-than-normal temperatures across Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana.

As the intensity and frequency of heatwaves continue to rise due to climate change, Rabi crops such as wheat, barley and mustard are at risk of significant damage, according to experts. The potential for greater temperatures and heat waves between March and May is anticipated to have an impact on production and raise the cost of several vegetables and fruits. Due to the flowering and fruiting processes being severely impacted by increased temperatures, some of these may report a fall of up to 30 per cent.

The chairman and managing director at Inventys Research Company, Deepak Birewar warned that high temperatures can have an extremely negative impact on these crops, causing reduced growth, decreased yield, and even crop failure. He said, "When temperatures are too high, Rabi crops can experience heat stress, which can lead to reduced growth, decreased yield, and even crop failure."

Therefore, it is crucial to address the impact of heatwaves on agriculture and take steps to mitigate its effects, he added. The high temperatures not only cause heat stress in Rabi crops but can also increase their water demand. This can lead to water stress in crops, especially if the available water supply is inadequate.

Notably, the supply of water has always been a concern in the southern part of India, and with rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall patterns, the threat of water scarcity is a significant concern for farmers. Therefore, it is critical to implement effective water management practices to ensure the optimal growth and productivity of Rabi crops.

One study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2017 estimated that global maize, wheat, and soybean yields could decline by 3.6 per cent, 6.0 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively for each degree Celsius increase in global mean surface air temperature. 

Another study published in the same journal in 2021 estimated that heat stress could reduce global rice yields by up to 40 per cent by the end of the century.

The chairman and managing director at Leads Connect Services, Navneet Ravikar suggested that farmers can adopt efficient irrigation systems such as drip irrigation and sprinklers to conserve water and ensure that crops receive the right amount of water at the right time. Soil and water conservation practices like mulching, composting, and rainwater collection can also help crops become more adaptable to climate change. 

Ravikar added, "Farmers have the option to diversify their crop portfolios to include varieties that are better suited to changing climate conditions, such as those with drought tolerance, heat resistance, or disease resistance. Planting trees and shrubs with crops can also improve soil health, conserve water, and provide additional sources of income for farmers."

Also, a new report from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research stated the extent and type of crop damage caused by the brutal heatwave in March and April 2022. The heatwave impacted wheat yield and led to a shortage of grain. 

The report titled 'Heat Wave 2022: Causes, Impacts and Way Forward for Indian Agriculture', stated that it also caused poor vegetative and retarded growth, pest infestations such as fall army and whitefly attacks, and viral infections in crops and livestock.

The managing director at BL Agro, Ashish Khandelwal suggested that the government should spread more awareness and educate farmers about different varieties of crops that can resist heat and other extreme climates year-round.

"Additionally, the government should provide training and technology to monitor weather conditions and identify upcoming climate changes, as well as make appropriate measures to support farmers affected by heat waves," Khandelwal added.

Meanwhile, as the month of March which is important for the maturity of winter-sown crops, high temperatures may bring a sense of anxiety among the Indian farmers yet again as they move towards crop harvesting.

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heat wave agriculture wheat