November 28, 2023
India faces stagnant wheat planting amid soil moisture concerns
India is expected to experience stagnant wheat planting despite near-record high prices, as lower soil moisture prompts farmers in some regions to shift to less water-intensive crops, Reuters reported.
The limited planting area, combined with the threat of higher-than-normal temperatures affecting yields, could lead the world's second-largest wheat producer to maintain its export ban or potentially resort to imports, according to industry officials and scientists.
As of November 17, farmers in India had planted wheat on 8.6 million hectares, reflecting a nearly 5.5% decrease from the previous year. While wheat farmers in key northern states with reliable irrigation, such as Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, are likely to maintain yields, those in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, the second-largest producer after Uttar Pradesh, are reportedly switching to less water-dependent crops.
In Madhya Pradesh, the wheat-growing area might decrease by around 10% from the previous year due to lower rains and limited irrigation water availability. Farmers in Maharashtra state are also adapting to the situation, with some opting for crops like sorghum that require less water.
Soil moisture levels have declined, and reservoirs have receded, exacerbated by India's lowest monsoon rains since 2018. Delayed paddy harvesting in some regions has slowed wheat planting, which is expected to pick up in the coming weeks.
India typically grows only one wheat crop annually, with planting in October and November and harvesting from March. New Delhi raised the government wheat purchase price for 2024, although current prices are nearly 25% higher. The increased Minimum Support Price aims to maintain farmers' interest in wheat despite concerns about soil moisture.
For winter-sown crops like wheat and rapeseed, higher-than-normal temperatures during December to March, often seen during El Nino years, could impact yields. India, self-sufficient in grain production, faces the challenge of below-normal production, potentially necessitating wheat imports as stocks are depleting.