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NEW DELHI : India is likely to reap a bumper harvest of wheat, the main winter staple, and mustard, aided by higher market prices and cold weather beneficial for key rabi or winter-sown crops, analysts and meteorologists said.

Robust winter crops, which account for half of the country’s annual food output, will help to cool food inflation and replenish stocks after a year of tight supply of food items, including rice and wheat. A series of extreme-weather events roiled farms in 2022, shrinking output. Major wheat-growing states, such Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are witnessing a cold snap and below-normal temperatures, which will help raise yields of not just wheat, but also coarse cereals such as barley and jowar, pulses and oilseeds, experts said.

“We expect wheat output to be around 111-112 million tonnes. The cold weather has provided the necessary chill factor for good crop development. Farmers have expanded the area under wheat due to prevailing high prices," said Rahul Chauhan, an analyst with IGrain India Pvt Ltd, a commodity tracker.

A severe heat wave in March 2022 trimmed India’s wheat output to 106.84 million tonnes from 109.59 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the government data. This was followed by a patchy monsoon, which is estimated to have shrunk rice output by 5-6%. This stoked cereal prices to record highs. This shortfall pushed up domestic wheat prices by 19.67% in November against 17.64% in October, latest official data showed. Wheat continues to trade at a record high despite overall food price inflation easing to 4.67% in November from 7.01% in October.

Farmers have planted 33.2 million hectare under wheat, about 9% higher than normal area of 30.2 million hectare, according to latest data from the agriculture ministry.

The acreage of oilseeds, a scarce item India imports to meet its domestic demand, stands at 10.5 million hectares, higher than the normal area of 7.6 million hectares. Farmers have also planted a record 9.5 million hectares with high-yielding mustard, compared to a five-year average of 6.3 million hectares.

“The weather so far has been very conducive for expansion for crops. Colder temperatures in January and February are necessary for robust grain formation," said AK Sawhney, a former scientist with the India Meteorological Department.

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