Heat wave threatens India’s wheat crop production dampening hopes for record exports

INDIA—India’s wheat production is poised to fall in 2022 in the wake of a sudden sharp rise in temperatures in mid-March that has reduced crop yields.

India’s wheat exports hit 7.85 million tonnes in MY2021-22 fiscal year to March, up 275% from the previous marketing year.

This was aimed at capitalizing on the huge supply gap following the disruption in the Black Sea region after Russia’s war in Ukraine upended trade flows out of the region, prompting warnings of food shortages.

After five consecutive years of record harvests and expecting another, the food and commerce minister predicted that India will export as much as 15 million tons of wheat in MY2022-23, a record high and double what it shipped last year.

In mid-February, almost a month before the recent heat wave, the government said India was on track to harvest an all-time high of 111.32 million tonnes of the grain, up from 109.59 million tonnes from the previous year.

The heat wave has cast doubt on these estimates. The government is yet to formally revise its production estimates, but an official note, seen by Reuters, said the output could fall to 105 million tonnes this year.

According to a report by the The Hindustan Times (HT) cultivators said their per-acre yields have dropped by 10 to 15 per cent and The Wire says that Punjab and Haryana, the largest producers of wheat in the country, lost around 20 to 25 per cent of the harvest.

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India recorded an average maximum temperature of 33.1 degrees Celsius in March, the hottest in India since records first started being kept in 1901. In April, temperatures surged to 46 degrees Celsius in some places. Conditions are not likely to improve soon.

“Dwindling supplies in spot markets indicate a larger dip in production. I think production could be down 10% to around 100 million tonnes,” said the India head of global trading firm, who declined to be named.

The government could restrict exports if production sank come closer to such level, he added. It needs about 25 million tons (27.5 million U.S. tons) of wheat for the vast food welfare program that usually feeds more than 80 million people.

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