Mustard prices in the open market in Fazilka district’s Abohar block were recorded on Sunday at 6,800 per quintal, 32% higher than this year’s minimum support price (MSP) and an all-time high for the crop in Punjab.

This has given the agriculture experts a hope to boost crop diversification in the state. The government had set the MSP for the rabi crop at 4,650.

Only private players buy mustard in the state as the government is not involved in procurement of the crop. The farmers said this is the second consecutive season when mustard rates crossed the MSP.

Arvind Setia, who had sown the crop on 10 acres at Toota Wali village in Abohar, the main trading centre of mustard in Punjab, has decided to delay the sale of his produce.

“In the last season, private players were offering from 3,300 to 3,500 per quintal but gradually mustard rates touched 4,500 against the MSP of 4,425. I have not seen such a demand for mustard in the market in the past 25 years. The buyers are procuring every kilo arriving in the mandis,” said Setia.

It costs nearly 5,000 to sow mustard on 1 acre and a farmer can harvest a minimum of 7 quintals from it weather and other factors remain favourable. “As per the existing rates, I will earn 40,000 from an acre and unlike wheat, mustard requires a negligible amount of water and pesticides,” added Setia.

Baldev Singh, a progressive farmer from Bajak in Bathinda district, said mustard has the potential to change Punjab’s farm economy that is under stress due to depleting groundwater levels. “It is less-labour intensive than wheat. A comprehensive plan to promote oilseeds will encourage farmers to shift towards mustard and the current market trend is very encouraging,” he added.

State agriculture director Dr Sukhdev Sidhu said mustard was grown on nearly 36,000 hectares in the state this time.

Sidhu said Markfed can play an important role in venturing into mustard oil processing to encourage farmers to diversify towards oilseeds. “We aim to increase the area under the crop also but traditionally it is restricted to southern Punjab. The rabi oilseed has immense scope in the kandi belt and other parts of the state. In the early 1990s, more than 1.50 lakh hectares was under mustard cultivation. But with the strengthening of the irrigation system three decades ago, the farmers switched from traditional mustard farming to wheat,” said Sidhu.

Rakesh Rathi, a trader and mustard miller, said high global prices have made edible oil imports dearer, benefiting domestic mustard growers when their crop is being brought to the mandis. “Mustard oil is the cheapest cooking oil and its demand has seen a surge after Covid-19 outbreak last year. The traditional edible oil has growing acceptance among consumers as it is the only edible oil after olive oil with no chemicals use during entire processing,” said Rathi.

He said mustard has also seen a demand in the vegetable oil manufacturing sector for authorised blending.

“The government should promote the cotton-mustard combination in the Malwa region and elsewhere to get out of wheat-paddy cycle for water conservation. It can be a game changer for farmers and mustard seeds have a huge market,” said Rathi.

Source: 19 April, 2021, Hindustan Times