Farm growth may match FYO8’s 4.5% but sugar might take a hit

Farm growth may match FYO8’s 4.5% but sugar might take a hit

Mumbai: The country’s agricultural growth in the fiscal ending March is likely to match the previous year’s 4.5% on good monsoon rains and better prospects from the crop currently being sown, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said on Sunday.

“Though the monsoon in some of the states was delayed, and there might be some impact, the overall report of the rabi crop (to be harvested in March and April) is such that probably we will be able to maintain the same growth rate even this year," Pawar said on the sidelines of a conference.

In 2007-08, growth in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors outpaced the previous year’s 3.8%, government data shows.

The annual monsoon between July and September was largely normal though western and southern regions had late rains. Pawar said wheat production is seen higher in 2009, denying reports of a slight fall in the sowing acreage.

“The feedback I am getting from the farmers and the agricultural commissioners is that they expect a better crop than last year," he said.

Higher moisture content in soil owing to the late monsoon in some parts and a favourable change in the climate currently were helping the wheat crop now being sown, he added.

If the crop in March 2009 is higher, it could top a record 78.4 million tonnes (mt) of wheat produced in March 2008. The minister said carryover stocks for sugar were good and may help tide over any shortfall in production in the crop year that ended last month.

“Whatever is the requirement for the next one and a half years is available with this year’s production and carryover (put) together," he said.

A delay of the monsoon by two-three months affected the growth of sugar cane and also the recovery of sugar, the minister said.

“Looks like there might be some impact," he said.

Trade officials have said India’s carryover sugar stocks on 1 October were at 9mt, while the government has said stocks stand at 11mt.

The minister did not say clearly if an import duty on crude palm oil would be levied after last week’s 20% duty on soya oil but said that it would depend on prices in the market. “At the moment, the situation is (such that) if prices go below the (state-set) minimum support price, then we have no choice but to act."

India imports nearly half of its edible oil requirement of 11mt—crude palm oil is a major component of this.

India was not looking to allow bulk exports of groundnut oil but may encourage more packaged edible oil exports, Pawar said.

“I am trying to keep the balance. We have to protect the domestic consumer interest. I have to protect the interest of the producer (also)," Pawar said.