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Will El Nino affect Wheat Production in India? - By Dr B K Singh & Purnima Nair

The winter months of December and January have witnessed an unusual absence of strong western disturbances (WDs) over North India. This deficiency, attributed in part to the El Niño conditions over the equatorial Pacific and a northward shift of the westerly jet stream. It has not rained in Jan 2024 so far.

As of now in wheat producing area of North- Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh, rain deficiencies have ranged 54% to 99%. This deficit, coupled with the absence of snowfall in higher elevations, raises concerns for the health of the Rabi crops, particularly wheat.

Impact on Wheat Cultivation: 

The Rabi crop, especially wheat, heavily relies on precipitation during the winter months. The deficiency in rainfall and snowfall may have implications for soil moisture levels, potentially affecting wheat germination and growth. In this current situation, ground water irrigation may offer some protection. What is more disturbing is the absence of active WDs and the resulting dry soil conditions could pose a threat to the overall health of the winter crops.

The observed lower snowfall and increased snowmelt will contribute to water resource stresses, posing challenges for downstream regions later.

Fig. 1

However, a fresh Western Disturbance is likely from January 26 -28. It is predicted that this upcoming western disturbance will bring good snowfall/rainfall over the Himalayan region, but with limited impact on the plains. The current low temperatures are good for the heading in wheat crops.

Fig. 2 (Source: Cola Weather)

Currently low temperature is good for the wheat crops. However, it can also be seen from Fig.2 that the temperature of Central India will increase in the month of February. It may induce dry conditions and with low soil moisture could severely affect the crop.

Fig. 3

Additionally, the El Niño conditions are in an active state, gradually decreasing from March, with the possibility of La Niña returning in May 2024. If La Niña returns, it could increase the chance of good monsoon, 2024.


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