Soybeans in India at Risk as El Nino Cripples Monsoon Rains

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India Monsoon
An Indian villager walks back home with a loaded bicycle during heavy downpour in India. on July 11, 2015. Photographer:Biswaranjan Rout/AP Photo

Soybean and peanut crops in India are at risk of lower yields as a deepening dry spell during the monsoon parches fields. Palm oil futures in Kuala Lumpur jumped to a one-week high.

Soybeans sown in the past two weeks need immediate rain in the next three to four days or will have to be replanted, V.S. Bhatia, director of state-owned Directorate of Soybean Research, said from Indore in central India. If the rains are delayed further, farmers will have to replace the oilseed with lentils, he said.

A strengthening El Nino is reducing rainfall from Thailand to India, hurting rain-fed crops and threatening to raise food prices. Lower oilseed harvests will increase India’s dependence on palm and soybean oil imports. El Nino will curb this year’s monsoon rains to 88 percent of average -- the first back-to-back shortfall in three decades -- according to the India Meteorological Department.

“Imports of cooking oils will definitely increase but the winter oilseed crops will decide the extent of the requirement,” Faiyaz Hudani, associate vice president at Kotak Commodity Services Pvt., said from Mumbai on Monday. “A clear picture on oilseeds output will emerge by month-end.”

India may import a record 9.4 million tons of palm oil in the 12 months starting Nov. 1 as below-average rainfall hurts crops, according to Ruchi Soya Industries Ltd., the country’s top refiner. India imports more than 50 percent of its cooking oil needs -- getting palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia and soybean oil from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina.

Palm Oil Surges

Palm oil advanced as much as 1.5 percent to 2,230 ringgit ($586) a ton on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives on Tuesday, before ending at 2,201 ringgit, the highest level at close since July 7. Soybeans traded in Mumbai jumped as much as 2 percent to 3,646 rupees per 100 kilograms, the highest level for futures since July 3.

Rainfall will be subdued and isolated in many parts of India including the central regions in the next five days, said D.S. Pai, head of India Meteorological Department’s long-range forecasting division. The central regions including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are the top producers of soybeans, India’s biggest oilseed crop.

Showers are 28 percent below average between July 1 and 12 after a 16 percent surplus in June, according to weather bureau data. July accounts for about 33 percent of downpour during the June-September rainy season and is the critical period for crop growth.

Peanut Crop

Below-average rain may also affect the peanut crop in Gujarat, the nation’s largest producer, K.K. Singh, head of agriculture meteorology at the weather bureau, said on July 10. The state, also the biggest cotton grower, received only 47 percent of its average rainfall between June 1 and July 12, according to bureau data.

Farmers began planting soybeans this year almost a month earlier than in 2014 after the monsoon rains spread to the growing regions, said D.N. Pathak, executive director of the Soybean Processors Association of India. The area under the oilseed will jump about 10 percent to 11.8 million hectares (29.2 million acres) this year, the association said on June 30.

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