JALANDHAR: The rain in February has come as a double blow for potato growers in the region. They are staring at losses for third consecutive year. They were first stung by demonetisation in 2016, the ripple effect of which is still continuing.

Punjab has over 96,000 hectare under potatoes and Doaba region remains key producer of potato seeds for supply in the entire country.

“In 2014, prices were fine, but in 2015 prices fell. We expected to get reasonable profit in 2016, but demonetisation was announced when trading of potatoes was just about to pick up. Major part of the potato trading is in cash and as cash flow dried up, there was no business and potato growers were almost doomed. In 2017 and 2018, the ripple effect of demonetisation continued and prices were again at rock bottom,” said Jaswinder Singh Sangha, general secretary of Potato Growers Association.

The prices of potatoes touched a new low in December 2018. According to farmers, potatoes were selling at Rs 3 per kilo, while the cost of production ranges from Rs 6 to Rs 8 per kilo.

“Several growers are even unable to pay interest to the banks. Potato is a heavy investment crop and damage to the crop or low price impacts the growers badly,” said Sangha. According to him, the area under potato cultivation was reduced to almost 50% already. “Now, looking at the fresh losses, we may either move out or would further reduce the area,” he added.

“Harvesting has started, but exact extent of damage would be known only after the harvesting is complete,” said Gupreet Singh of village Ahmadpur Chhanan, district , who has sown potato crop in over 80 acres. He pointed out that the delay in the harvesting would have adverse impact on the next crop – maize or melon. “If maize is sown in February, then yield is good. But if there is delay, its yield will come down. There is also no certainty that farmers would get remunerative price for maize too,” he said.

Harpal Singh of village Seechewal, who tends to over 30 acres, pegged the damage at 25-30% in and Lohina and nearly 50% in and Kala Sanghia. “Apart from incurring losses from potatoes, the next crop will also be affected due to the delay in sowing. Our future appears bleak,” he said.

Confirming that potato growers did suffer huge losses for three consecutive years, Ranjit Singh, deputy director of horticulture department, said that the damage caused by rain would be varying in different areas depending on the quality of the soil and quantum of rain in that area. “As there is still uncertainty about the weather in the next one week or so, it is still not sure if farmers would be able to complete harvesting. The delay is also set to have adverse impact on the next crop. The only thing that can mitigate their suffering is better price for the crop,” he said.

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