It’s make or break for rice production in monsoon 2023

NOAA forecasts break in monsoon in August; rains key for paddy farming in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh

By Pulaha Roy
Published: Friday 28 July 2023
West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are the biggest paddy producing states in India. File photo: CSE

Monsoon 2023 is heading for a break in the next couple of weeks, according to the United States federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Forecast System. The break may lead to rain in eastern parts of the country, which is crucial for Kharif paddy production

The monsoon season in India officially commenced on June 8, 2023, eight days later than usual and covered the whole country in 25 days, 20 days ahead of its schedule.

Read more: How did monsoon 2023 progress and perform in June

This monsoonal breakaway from the active phase is quite normal, according to Akshay Deoras, climate scientist at the University of Reading, the United Kingdom. 

“A break in the monsoon occurs when the monsoon trough shifts northward, which enhances rainfall along the Himalayan foothills and parts of eastern India. The rainfall is suppressed in the rest of the country,” Deoras explained.

Currently, 232 districts — mostly concentrated in the eastern meteorological subdivisions in the country — have reported ‘deficient’ to ‘large deficient’ rainfall. 

This deficit has been reported even though the monsoon has been categorised normal by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) — seven per cent excess when compared to long term average.

“The main rainfall deficiency is in eastern and northeastern parts of India, so the break may help in improving the rainfall scenario in these states,” Deoras said.

As seen in the map, the eastern states are forecast to receive above average rainfall when compared to 1991-2020 precipitation average.

But what does it mean for rice production, the most important of Kharif crops, in areas where early sowing was disrupted in June across the Indo-Gangetic region? 

The most important stage in the crop cycle is the reproduction stage, according to Debashish Jena, agromet scientist with the National Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, Odisha. 

Read more: Himachal, which recorded heavy pre-monsoon rains, battered as system finally moves into state

Jena expressed caution, since IMD is yet to come up with its forecast report for August, but said it remains to be seen if the reproduction stage coincides with the August rains. 

“Rice needs 10 centimetres of water depth in the fields during the reproduction stage and the August rains (as forecasted by NOAA) in West Bengal and Odisha should help in that regard,” Jena said. 

But farmers across the Indo-Gangetic plains have already run into heavy losses since they have left without sprout or shoots for transplanting, Down To Earth had reported earlier. 

To salvage the dire situations of farmers, IMD issued advisory alerts for farmers to switch to short duration paddy varieties, which mature in 125 days instead of the usual 180 days.

While farmers have been left to rue the scanty rainfall in June, which coincides with the Kharif sowing stage and with India banning export of rice, sowing area has increased by four per cent compared to last year, data as of July 24, 2023 by Crop Weather Watch showed.

Compared to the same week last year, rice production area increased by 12 per cent in both of the two biggest paddy producing states of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh for the week ending on July 20, 2023. 

While Jena did admit that El Nino — the warming phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation weather phenomenon — will be a factor, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) should neutralise the extreme effects, he added. 

Read more: Chasing monsoon: 2002 saw slowest progression in last 2 decades, shows DTE analysis

Like El Nino, which unfolds in the tropical waters of the Eastern Pacific, IOD is the difference in sea surface temperature stretching from the Arabian Sea to the eastern region of the Indian Ocean along the southern Indonesian coast.

A positive IOD usually manifests in above average rainfall across the Indian SubcontinentBut, according to Deoras, the IOD continues to remain neutral despite several models predicting the onset of a positive IOD event in July.

“These models are now predicting a much weaker than previously forecasted positive IOD event in August, but the forecast uncertainty continues to remain high. Forecasts indicate that the impact of El Nino will intensify in August, which coupled with the break-monsoon situation can lead to much lesser rainfall in August compared to July,” Deoras said. 

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