India set for bumper winter crops in wake of monsoon rains
Purchases by the state-run Food Corporation of India make the government the biggest hoarder of the grain. As a result, open market prices have remained high despite bumper harvests, giving farmers good returns on wheat.
"If we do not see any pest attack, unseasonal rains and higher temperatures in February-March, we see farmers getting good yield on their average (annual) planting of nearly 29 million hectares," Sharma said.
Indian reservoirs are brimming after this year's 6-percent higher than average monsoon rains. That means lower irrigation costs and less use of diesel for pumps, helping the government in its fight to curb fuel use in the world's fourth-biggest energy consumer.
To cash in on good soil moisture, farmers are also likely to plant more area with the main winter-sown oilseed rapeseed, as well as chickpeas. The latter, known locally as chana, is the most popular edible pulse in India, used in everything from curries to samosa.
"I am putting in 10 acres of land under chana as against 8 acres last year because the weather is conducive and yields are expected to be higher," said Keshav Prasad Rathi, a farmer-cum-trader from Akola in western Maharashtra, India's No.2 chickpea growing state.
Farmers and traders said the next chickpea harvest would be near the record levels of 8.8 million tonnes produced in the crop year to June 2013. That is good news for India which has to rely on Canada, Myanmar and Australia for around 2.5-3.5 million tonnes of imports of protein-rich pulses.
If weather conditions do not change abruptly, rapeseed production should exceed the 7.82 million tonnes harvested in the previous year, said a Mumbai-based industry official.
Higher output of rapeseed, which has the highest oil content among India's nine main oilseeds, will help cut imports by the world's biggest vegetable oil importer.
But any major jump in output would also depress oilseed and cooking oil prices, reducing growers' returns on the crop. Unlike wheat, the government does not buy oilseeds from farmers and promises to intervene only when prices fall below a support price fixed by the farm ministry.
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