India’s wheat planting has been delayed by at least a week due to high temperatures, threatening its output of the grain yet again after hailstorms during harvest earlier this year dragged down annual production levels for the first time since 2007. Lower wheat acreage, down around 26 percent so far this season, in the world’s No 2 wheat producer could buoy global benchmark prices of the grain that have shed 5 percent this month amid crop-friendly rains across the United States.
In India, poor wheat yields would exacerbate the pain for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that is struggling to address discontent in the countryside, where dozens of farmers committed suicide earlier this year as erratic weather hit their only source of income. “Obviously it’s too early to talk about the size of the (Indian) crop but late sowing is definitely not a sign of robust production,” Indu Sharma, chief of state-run Directorate of Wheat Research, told Reuters from the northern city of Karnal.
Sharma and a farm ministry official, who oversees crop planting progress, said planting of wheat and other winter-sown crops like rapeseed had been hit due to higher temperatures. According to government data, farmers have so far planted winter crops on 24.22 million hectares, down 12.6 percent from 27.69 million hectares in the previous year. Wheat acreage is lower by more than 26 percent.
Indian farmers grow wheat on nearly 30 million hectares, with sowing from October and harvests in March-April. Unlike most other crops, India grows only one wheat crop in a year. A sharp rise in temperatures in 2006 had cut yields, turning India into a large importer of wheat. This year, untimely hail and rains during harvest cut output to 88.94 million tonnes from 91.50 million tonnes last year.
While the country has plentiful stocks after several years of bumper output, another drop in annual production “could provide bullish momentum to global prices,” said a Singapore-based trader. “A big reduction in India’s wheat output has not been factored into the market.”
Apart from the hail and rain in March, India this year has also suffered its first back-to-back drought in three decades after the emergence of an El Nino weather pattern led to below-average annual monsoon rains. “Dry weather conditions during the time of sowing or harvests, with a frosty winter in between, is a recipe for crop loss,” said Sharma from the Directorate of Wheat Research.