Hot potato? Not anymore, as prices cool down, farmers feel the pinch

From Rs 2,000 per quintal last year to Rs 500-700 per quintal this year, the potato price has come down drastically. A week ago, it was selling for Rs 1,200-1,250 per quintal. At some mandis, the rate is between Rs 500 and Rs 700 per quintal.

Farmers maintain that the rate may come down further because of good-to-bumper potato crop in other potato-growing states.

In Punjab, harvesting of the table potato starts in December and continues till March. Different types and different sizes of table potatoes are supplied to the market in over three months while the seed potato, which is around 61% of the total potato crop of the state, is harvested in February-March.

After this, it is kept in cold stores after keeping them in the fields for around a month by covering them with straws. In December when the potato was coming to the market in a small size, the rate crashed to Rs 500 to 600 per quintal. After some time, the rate went up and touched Rs 1,250 per quintal in February- end and the beginning of March.

“There is a bumper crop of potato in other potato-growing states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh because of which there is a less demand for potato from the other states. As a result, prices are falling,” said potato grower Pawanjot Singh from Nakodar. “The rates will crash further because of less demand for the potato from other states.”

“Potato is a very risky crop as sometimes its rates are quite high and sometimes they come down to even Rs 100 to Rs 200 per quintal, which hits the potato growers badly. Because of the high input cost, the crop must not be sold for less than Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,300 per quintal,” said another potato grower, Tejinder Singh of Shahkot, adding that the government should compensate the farmers if the rates cannot meet the input cost.

Although Punjab’s potato production share is just 5% of the all India production, which is nearly 50 million tonnes, the state has been meeting the demand for seed potato of the entire country as its Doaba region — Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr districts — is the best region in the country to grow seed potato.

Other states procure seed from Punjab and replace new seed on their land every third year as they use new seed and then their own previous crop for seed purpose in the next year and then new seed.

The yield goes down 15% to 20% less and sometimes 30% to 35% down when they use their own crop as a seed. But most of the farmers of other states cannot afford to replace seed every year as the seed rate is high. Even they use Punjab’s seed by cutting a tuber into two halves.

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In Punjab where the seed is grown, the farmers replace seed every year and full tuber is used as a seed to get the best quality seed which is to be supplied to other states.

The total production of potato is around 2.8 million tonnes, out of which 1.7 lakh tonnes is meant for seed. While 4 lakh tonnes seed is required in Punjab, 13 lakh tonnes seed is supplied to all potato-growing states.

Around 11 lakh (1.1 million) tonnes is table potato, out of which nearly 25% (2.75 lakh tonnes) is harvested in December and the remaining around 7.25 lakh tonnes is harvested in January, February and March.

The entire 61% of seed potatoes are harvested mainly in February and March. Out of 11 lakh tonnes table potatoes, around 5 lakh tonnes of table potatoes are supplied to other states and 6 lakh tonnes are consumed in the state only.

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