Excess rainfall in Nov-Dec, early heat: Why lime production was hit in Andhra, India's largest producer

Gujarat, Maharashtra also affected, prices to come down in a fortnight, say experts

By G Ram Mohan
Published: Thursday 14 April 2022
Excess rainfall in Nov-Dec, early heat: Why lime production was hit in Andhra, India's largest producer Photo: G Ram Mohan

Lime prices may be burning holes in middle-class pockets, but has that translated into super profits for farmers? Cultivators in Andhra Pradesh, the largest supplier of the citrus, are not exactly a happy lot.

Their experience is another case study of how extreme weather can add to farm worries.

Lime is cultivated in the state over an area of 41,858 hectares, of which 18,797 hectares fall in the erstwhile SPSR Nellore district (before its recent reorganisation), said K Srinivasulu, deputy director, state horticulture department.

The state is also home to Asia’s biggest lime market yard in Gudur town, Tirupati district.

Fall in production

Excess rainfall in Nellore district hampered lime flowering. For good flowering in lime trees farmers don’t water them in September and October — a treatment called bahar. 

It is a part of management practice to get flowering in December, said L Srinivas Rao, district horticulture officer, Nellore. “It takes three-four months for flowers to become a fruit. Extended rainfall upto December and January delayed flowering, causing delay in production.”

Flowering was not affected in trees on gravel soil which does not retain moisture, he added.

The rains hit all the major lime-growing districts of Nellore and West Godavari districts, which have major markets for the citrus fruit.

A Venkata Ramanaiah Naidu, vice-president, Federation of Farmers Associations, SPSR Nellore district, said:

The crop this year would be just 20 per cent of the normal yield. A farmer who produced 10 bags of the fruit is currently managing just one bag. The excessive rain and floods from the Somasila project and pests played spoilsport. The rain led to even death of trees due to excess water. Most horticulture crops, including mango, have been affected by the rains leading to less production. Early heat is also affecting flowering.

Lack of proper prices in the last seven to eight years for lime had led to farmers not taking up its cultivation, Naidu added. 

Even now, as the yield has fallen, the gains to farmers would not be high. “Nearly 60-70 per cent of the crop goes out of state.”

The assertions are vouched for by K Nagarathnaiah and M Anji Reddy, farmers with lime plantations in Pallakonda village, Kaluvoya mandal of Nellore.

“As the land was moist with rains from October to January 15, it was not suitable for management practices like adding organic manures and pruning trees,” said B Pratap, senior scientist at the Citrus Research Station in Petlur in Nellore district.

Many trees were removed during the drought in 2017-18 so that must have affected production to an extent, he added. “Trees which are just 4-5 years old cannot give the yield of 10-year-old trees. In one or two years there will be glut again leading to fall in prices.”

The farmers lost interest in going for new plantation last year as they faced losses due to COVID-19-induced situations, the expert said. “The interest will increase now.

Arrival at market yards

The fall in production is evidenced by the drastic reduction in arrival of produce at Gudur, Eluru and Nakirekal markets in Nalgonda district of Telangana. Around 10-15 vehicles carrying 25 tonnes of lime each are arriving in Gudur currently. Normally, the yard sees the arrival of 40-50 vehicles, said A Mastan Naidu, a mandi owner in the yard.

The condition in Eluru market yard is no better, said MNV Prabhakar, market secretary of the yard. Arrivals are just seven-eight lorries from the normal 20 lorries.

Andhra Pradesh has had the highest production of lime crop in the country for the last 30-40 years, said U Chakrapani, president, South India Lemon Exporters Association, (a grouping with 15 markets across AP, Telangana and Karnataka who send the crop to North India). 

Lime season in Maharashtra and Gujarat is completed by summer as the climate is hotter there. The cold climate in the north is not suitable for flowering in lime during October, November and December. So, they cannot provide sufficient lime during summer for their needs and rely on us. 

Crops will start arriving at markets in Gujarat and Maharashtra after May 15-20, said Chakrapani. The shortfall of crops in these states is due to incessant rainfall in the months of November, December and January. The crop was damaged more in the West Godavari district than Nellore, leading to less flowering here, he added.

The festival month of Ramzan has also led to increased demand, said CH Jagan, president of Nakirekal market yard in Nalgonda district of Telangana. “Just five lorries of 15-20 tonnes are currently arriving here, while normally there are 20-25 lorries,” he said.

Gudur, Eluru markets along with Nakirekal and Bijapur markets account for around 90 per cent of the lime sent to north India, Jagan said, adding that prices will reduce in the next 10-15 days.

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