New Delhi, Dec 31: Battling two extremes of drought and unseasonal rains in various states, agriculture sector faced a "difficult year" in 2015 resulting in severe distress for farmers and even suicides, while the foodgrain output is likely to decline for the second straight year in 2016.
The lower farm output also led to a sharp jump in prices of key kitchen food items like pulses, onions, tomatoes and mustard oil in 2015.
To salvage the situation, the government launched Rs 50,000 crore worth irrigation and soil health schemes and is all set to unveil a new insurance scheme and electronic agri-market in New Year to ensure that the farmers earn 50 per cent profit from produce.
"More districts were gripped by drought this year due to 14 per cent deficient rains. Definitely, there will be some impact on agriculture production, but not to the extent that everyone were fearing at the beginning of the rainy season," Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh told PTI.
The impact on farm output is likely to be minimal as the government has taken timely measures like seed and diesel subsidy among others to help farmers save crops, he said.
The Centre has sanctioned a drought relief package of Rs 7,898 crore to four states -- Karnataka, Chattishgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and the decision on proposals of other six states will be decided soon, he added.
The country's foodgrains production fell by 4.66 per cent to 252.68 million tonnes in the 2014-15 crop year.
The fall was steeper (10 per cent) in pulses at 17.2 million tonnes, which resulted in retail prices skyrocketing to over Rs 200 per kg.
High dal prices also became a big political issue during the Bihar election. High vegetable prices, including of onion and tomatoes, kept the government at toes.
In contrast, low sugar prices continued to be an issue for the industry and the government as cane price arrears swelled to over Rs 21000 crore.
Asked about the priorities in 2016, the Minister said the government would focus on reducing the cost of cultivation and ensure profit to farmers through effective implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sichai Yojana, National Agriculture Market and soon to be launched crop insurance scheme.
"We want to ensure farmers earn 50 per cent profit over the cost of cultivation. Better seeds, balanced application of fertilisers, enhancing irrigation facilities, e-market for sale, and better crop insurance -- all this will help farmers reducing the cost of cultivation," Singh said.