Wheat output likely to cross govt estimate despite unseasonal rains

Written by Banikinkar Pattanayak | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 18 2012, 05:28am hrs
Despite heavy unseasonal showers over the past few days in key producing states of Punjab and Haryana, Indias wheat output is expected to cross the governments latest estimate of a record 88.31 million tonne in the year through June.

Agriculture secretary PK Basu said although there have been sporadic damages to the wheat crop in some places, the overall output for the country wont be affected due to record planting over 29 million hectares in 2011-12. The weather has been conducive for the most part of the year. In fact, I still believe wheat production may exceed the last estimate, Basu said. Total grain output may even touch 255 million tonne on higher production of rice, wheat and cereals if weather conditions remain good, compared with the official estimate of 250.42 million tonne, he added.

Showers over vast wheat-growing regions in northern India had stoked apprehensions that fresh pest attacks and unwanted moisture before harvesting may cut output. The production of staple winter grain has climbed at a fast pace since 2009-10 when the country harvested 80.80 million tonne. The agriculture ministry is expected to announce its third advance estimate of crop production later this month. Basu also said the government will likely announce the forecast of monsoon rains in the last week of April.

Policy makers have been closely monitoring prospects of food crops in 2011-12 as well as forecast of seasonal showers this year, as the country is planning to implement a proposed food security act that will widen the governments subsidised grain sales to the poor. This apart, recent trends suggest that although headline inflation is easing, food prices are showing sign of an increase.

Prices of primary articles rose 9.62% in March, compared with 6.28% in February, as protein-based food items, vegetables and pulses turned dearer. Earlier this year, the agriculture ministry had set a wheat output target of 84 million tonne for 2011-12. India, the worlds second-largest producer, had harvested a record wheat crop of 86.87 million tonne in 2010-11.

Wheat planting rose marginally from last years record level to reach around 29 million hectares in 2011-12, boosting hopes that the country was well on course to reaping a bumper harvest for a third straight year.

Analysts have said a prolonged winter spell has helped the crop grow well and the large-scale government intervention has prevented any escalation of pest attacks, but the terminal heat in March and April will be the key indicator if production can breach the 90-million tonne milestone.

Wheat harvesting has begun in some states and will pick up pace by mid-April, while procurement by state-run agencies officially started from April 1.

Higher wheat and rice production will extend another year of steady grain supplies, helping the government in its battle against food inflation and ambitious plan to implement the food security law. The country needs over 60 million tonne of rice and wheat stocks a year for the Food Security Act, and an increase in output will help the government in one of its biggest populist drives. Higher wheat output will also encourage the government to maintain favourable export policies. The country had banned wheat exports since 2007 to maintain steady domestic supplies and lifted the restriction last year to ease storage space. Official grain stocks swelled by 18% to 54.52 million tonne as on March 1 from a year earlier.