Wheat Output in India Set to Drop for First Time in Eight Years

Wheat output in India, the world’s second-largest producer, will drop for the first time in eight years and rice harvest will fall from a record after a below-average monsoon, the Agriculture Ministry said today.

The wheat harvest may decline to 92.3 million metric tons in the year ending June 30 from a record 94.9 million tons, the ministry said in a statement in New Delhi today. That would be the first drop since 2004-2005. The rice crop may fall 3.3 percent to 101.8 million tons from 105.3 million tons, while total food grains production will slide 3.5 percent to 250.1 million tons from 259.3 million, it said.

Seven years of record crops have expanded state wheat stockpiles to about 31 million tons as of Feb. 1, spurring the government to increase exports to empty warehouses for the new harvest starting March. The drop in output may not alter the government’s free-export policy, Ramesh Chand, director of the New Delhi-based National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, said last month.

State reserves of rice and wheat were 66.3 million tons as of Feb. 1, compared with the government’s requirement of 25 million tons as of Jan. 1, according to the Food Corp. of India. Exports may reach 10 million tons in the year starting April 1, according to Chand. The government has allowed shipment of 4.5 million tons by state companies since July. The cabinet may soon consider additional sales from state stockpiles, Food Minister K.V. Thomas said yesterday.

Winter Rice

Farmers planted wheat on 29.8 million hectares (73.6 million acres) as of Feb. 1, compared with 29.9 million hectares a year earlier, according to the farm ministry. Winter-sown rice was planted on 1.48 million hectares, down from 2.04 million hectares, it said.

About half of the country’s food grains are sown during the monsoon and harvested from October, according to the farm ministry. The grains include rice, corn and lentils. Harvesting of wheat, the biggest winter-sown crop, usually begins in March.

Monsoon rainfall this year was deficient in parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat states, reducing rice area and yield, according to the farm ministry.

Sugar cane output will drop 7.3 percent to 334.5 million tons this year, while cotton harvest may fall 4 percent to 33.8 million bales of 170 kilograms each, the ministry said. Oilseed output, including soybeans and mustard, will be little changed at 29.5 million tons from 29.8 million in 2011-2012, it said.