India pulses may lose acreage to cotton, oilseeds

MUMBAI, May 22 (Reuters) - A sharp rise in prices of oilseeds and cotton may prompt Indian farmers to cut acreage under the summer sown pulses, officials and analysts said.

In 2007/08 soybean, groundnut and cotton prices climbed on a shortfall in global output and strong domestic and export demand. However, summer pulses remained almost steady from last year.

In the kharif or summer season, farmers sow pigeon peas (tur), black gram (urad) and green gram (moong).

“Higher prices of soybean and other crops will certainly lure traditional pulses farmers. There is possibility of crop diversion,” said K.C. Bhartiya, president of the Pulses Importers’ Association of India.

Kharif pulses account for 37 percent of the country’s total pulses production and 48 percent of total area under pulses.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are main kharif pulses producing states and these are also major producers of oilseeds and cotton.

“Moong and urad are likely to lose some area. But, in tur, area may not get affected much as prices are still competitive and in many states it is an inter-crop with soybean,” said Prem Kogta, a dal miller based in Jalgaon, Maharashtra.

Intercropping is the practice of cultivating two or more crops in the same field, usually in alternate rows.

India, the world’s biggest producer, consumer and importer of pulses, battling rising prices, allowed duty-free import and banned export in 2006. The bam was extended till March 2009.

Soybean and cotton gave good returns and pulses farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra may switch to these crops, said Chowda Reddy, an analyst at Karvy Comtrade Ltd.

Soybean price has climbed more than 50 percent since last May to trade at 2,330 rupees per 100 kg at Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

“Corn may also eat some area in states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra,” Ravi Bhushan, an analyst in ICICI Direct, said.

Corn, a short duration crop which requires less water, is seeing good demand from domestic and overseas markets, he said.

India’s winter, or rabi, pulses output is likely to fall 6.4 percent to 8.80 million tonnes in 2007/08, against 9.40 million tonnes a year earlier, the government said this month.

Forty-six- year old farmer from Amravati district in Maharashtra, Rajabhau Menkar, had sown pulses as an inter-crop last year. But he had no plans to continue with the practice this year.

“Last year cotton yield increased due to Bt cotton and prices were also high. This year I am planning to increase cotton acreage,” Menkar said.

Price of shankar 6 grade of cotton has jumped more than 27 percent in Gujarat since May 2007, to 24,000 rupees per candy. (Editing by Harish Nambiar)