February 22, 2010


India wheat crop could top 2008-09's; may tame food prices


Indian agricultural experts' predictions that this year's wheat crop will likely eclipse last year's record harvest could help to ease fears of a grain shortage and may tame food prices in the country.


The government scientists' optimism about the wheat crop in the fiscal year that ends March 31 followed similar expectations expressed by India's agriculture minister Wednesday (Feb 17) and, by around a week, a less upbeat government forecast. Food prices in India have risen of late due to supply constraints, after the country faced its worst drought in 37 years in 2009.


Output of the winter-sown grain will exceed 82 million tonnes on the back of a cold spell that has extended well into February, said S. Nagarajan, a scientist with the agriculture ministry.


"This is one of the best winters we have had," he said at the Fifth International Wheat Seminar. "We could not ask for anything more...If there are no hailstorms or rains in March, then we are heading for a record."


Wheat output in 2008-09 was at 80.68 million tonnes; last week's official crop estimate put the 2009-10 figure at 80.28 million tonnes.


India's food prices rose at their fastest pace in six weeks in the week ended February 6, as the food price index rose by 17.97% versus a year earlier, but a record wheat crop would help to bring prices down after March's harvest.


"The weather conditions between March 15 and March 22 will be crucial for the crop as it nears the completion of the grain-filling stage," said S.S. Singh, project director at the state-owned Directorate of Wheat Research, who agreed that the crop will likely touch a new record, though he cautioned that output could fall if temperatures rose during the critical period.


Government inventories are at more than double the buffer requirement of 8.2 million tonnes. But the upcoming harvest won't create storage problems, a senior official said. The Central Warehousing Corp. and other state-run companies will complete construction of new storage facilities before the crop is harvested from March onward, CWC Managing Director B.B. Pattanaik told reporters.


Industry officials at the conference said they expected India's stockpiles of wheat to double, to around 40 million tonnes, by end-June. 

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