Indian wheat sowings 'to hit record high'

India, whose emergence as a significant source of wheat exports has fuelled the decline in world prices, appears poised for another strong harvest this year, with sowings expected to hit 30m hectares for the first time.

Indian growers had, as of December 20, sown 27.4m hectares with wheat - 2.1m hectares more than at the same time a year before, agriculture ministry data show.

"Higher planting has been reported in most states on optimal soil moisture conditions and timely harvest of the preceding kharif (fall-harvested) crops," the US Department of Agriculture's New Delhi bureau said.

Sowings for the 2014 harvest are "likely to reach a new record, surpassing the previous record area of 29.9m hectares in 2012-13", when production set the all-time high of 94.9m tonnes.

'Favourable growing conditions'

Sowings have been encouraged by decent weather and adequate moisture supplies.

"Wheat planting conditions have been generally favourable throughout the major growing states with adequate soil moisture conditions and adequate irrigation water availability in the major reservoirs and irrigation systems," the bureau said.

Furthermore, temperatures in most wheat-growing regions have fallen in recent weeks, "providing favourable early growing conditions".

However, the chances of a new record harvest will also depend largely on winter rains and on warmer temperatures during the grain filling and ripening periods, in February and March.

Growing influence

The prospect of a strong 2014 harvest comes amid some loosening of India's restrictions on wheat exports, which has increased the importance to international markets of the country's market.

Shipments in 2012-13 soared seven-fold to a record 6.82m tonnes, and are expected to remain strong this season too.

Indeed, India's government is, after in October lowering the floor price for wheat exports, likely by the end of March to fill its latest 2m-tonne export quota, the USDA bureau said.

Two Indian state-run trading companies, State Trading Corp and Pec, this week offered between them a further a 220,000 tonnes of wheat for shipment between February 1 and March 5.

Government wheat stocks amounted to 31.1m tonnes as of the start of last month, swollen by a generous government purchasing programme designed to support India's huge rural population.

Export forecast

Nonetheless, the bureau was a little less upbeat than the USDA itself on Indian wheat exports in 2013-14, estimating them at 6.0m tonnes, 500,000 tonnes below the official Washington forecast.

"Exports of open market wheat will be very limited due to high open market prices and lack of quality supplies," the bureau said.

Indian wheat is generally of relatively low protein levels, of 10-11%, suitable for feed or for some lower-grade milling purposes.

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