New Delhi: India’s wheat crop may fall 2% from last year’s record high, according to the government’s first official target, as the effects of the worst monsoon in 37 years extend into winter crops.
The farm ministry said the country aims to produce 79 million tonnes in 2009-10, lower than last year’s record harvest as the weak monsoon is likely have reduced soil moisture, while yields in top-producing regions have plateaued.
International wheat prices have been trading around the lowest level since early 2007, weighed down by bumper crops.
A week ago the US Department of Agriculture raised its forecast of 2009-10 world wheat ending stocks to 186.61 million tonnes, from 183.56 million in August.
India’s target is the first indication of expectations for the likely harvest in the world’s second-largest producer of the grain, based on the assessment of agricultural scientists, farm ministry and feedback from districts.
The target may be reviewed next week at a two-day conference of state government officials and the farm ministry next week, when they will discuss the availability of fertilisers, seeds and irrigation resources as well as the likely crop area.
India hopes to boost the use of better seeds and fertilisers and encourage early sowing to maximise output of wheat, which makes up three-quarters of India’s winter-sown grain.
Last year India produced a record 80.58 million tonnes of wheat, filling its granaries to the brim with stocks enough to withstand this year’s drought.
Weak monsoon rains have reduced soil moisture, a key factor for yields of winter-sown crops such as wheat and rapeseed, and officials say there is little scope for raising productivity in the northern grain-bowl states of Punjab and Haryana.
“In high productivity areas, yields seem to be plateauing,” an official who did not want to be named told Reuters.
Rajni Panikkar, head of research at MF Global Commodities India, said it was too early to comment on the likely output but the government can help farmers by ensuring timely supply of seeds, while the purchase price by government agencies also influences the farmer’s choice of crop.
Pramod Kumar, former president of the Karnataka Flour Millers Association, said low water level in reservoirs and possibly inadequate soil moisture may hurt the crop.
“We will have to keep our fingers crossed as it is early to forecast wheat production, but yield could be lower due to bad monsoon rains,” he said.
The water level in India’s main reservoirs is lower than average although the tanks have filled up faster than the 10-year average last week.
India’s target for winter-sown rice is 14.50 million tonnes, down from 14.57 million harvested a year ago, the farm ministry said.
India grows only one wheat crop in a year, which is sown from October and harvested from March. It grows two rice crops and the bulk of the harvest comes from the summer-sown crop.
India’s vital monsoon rains have been 20 percent below normal this year, making it the worst season since 1972.
Low monsoon rains have also ravaged the cane crop, raising the prospects of large sugar imports by India, the world’s top consumer of the sweetener.
Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said last month the government hope to boost the harvest of winter-sown crops to offset the losses from the drought but officials say this will be difficult.
“Rainfall this month will help the winter-sown crop and to some extent it may compensate for production lost because of the drought,” a government official said.