Walking through his wheat fields that appear uniformly formed and about to turn from pale to golden yellow, Bijendra Singh is unfazed by concerns that heat waves would reduce yield for the second year in a row.
“Abhi tak fasal ko dekhke ke yeh lag raha hai ki pichle saal ka nuksaan is baar bharpai ho jayega (Looking at this year’s crop, it seems that last year’s losses will be compensated),” the farmer at Lagarpur village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district says.
The reason for Singh’s optimism is all around – the crops, at the late-flowering stage, look robust and unaffected by heat in most of the north and central Indian regions.
Singh, who has sown wheat in 6.5 hectare this time, says there has been no incidence of yellow rust disease so far, and the temperature, which is “slightly above normal” at 32-33 degree Celsius, has had no impact on the crop. He is expecting to harvest around 6 tonne of the grain per hectare this year, which is quite high by Indian standards, where the average yield is 3-3.5 tonne.
Singh is certainly not alone. About 150 km away, Vikash Choudhary, from Tarawari village in Karnal district, says the crop hasn’t been hit by high temperature, let alone a “heatwave”. Choudhary cultivates seed varieties that are in demand — his fields’ yield had fallen to 5.7 tonne/hectare last year, down from 7 tonne in 2021.
Officials agree. “The wheat crop outlook at present seems to be good and keeping in view the likely temperature scenario in the next 15 days, India is moving toward a better wheat production this year,” Rajbir Yadav, principal scientist, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, says.
Temperature conditions are likely to remain conducive for “grain-filling” over the crucial period of next couple of weeks, say weather forecasters. This augurs well not only for the country’s wheat stocks, but also the global supplies of the grain in 2023. Global wheat prices have cooled in recent months, even as domestic wheat inflation is still high.
FE spoke to farmers and traders in other key wheat-growing states, including Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, with most confirming bright crop prospects. This is expected to improve domestic supplies and reduce prices, which had spiked since the middle of last year. Unless the weather plays spoilsport unexpectedly, there could even be a rethink on the ban on export of wheat imposed in May last year.
Wheat futures at Chicago Board of Trade halved from a record level of around $530/tonne in September 2022 to $ 260/tonne on Wednesday, close to the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat in India at the current exchange rate.
The wheat crop in Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for about 30% of India’s wheat production, is reported to be nearing harvest.
The crop is better in eastern part of the state where the sowing was timely, after paddy harvest.
In Punjab and Haryana, which account for a quarter of the country’s wheat output, and contribute half of the central pool stocks, harvesting will commence by the end of this month.
For the current crop year (2022-23), the government has estimated a record wheat harvest of 112.2 million tonne (MT), against last year’s 109 MT (traders estimate the output last year was even lower at 96-99 MT). A survey by Agriwatch, on behalf of the Roller Flour Millers’ Federation of India, estimated the wheat production in 2022-23 crop year in the range of 108-110 MT.
As on Thursday, the FCI had wheat stocks of 10.7 MT against buffer for April 1 of 7.4 MT.
The FCI and state agencies’ wheat procurement in the April-June 2022 season jumped 57% to 18.8 MT.
Last month, average temperature rose to a record level this year, triggering fears of a spike in temperature in March which could adversely impact the wheat yield. However, so far in the current month, temperatures have hovered around 30-33 degrees, which is not harmful for the standing wheat crop. As per the latest prediction of the Met department, rainfall accompanied with thunderstorms over many parts of the country during March 16-20 will keep temperature at around 30 degree Celsius.