NEW DELHI, INDIA — An untimely heatwave is stunting India’s wheat crop at a crucial time, thwarting the nation’s potential to increase exports and make up for global shortfalls caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported.
While recent high temperatures have roasted India for weeks, approaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius), it was heat in March that has imperiled wheat during the crucial final stages of maturation. Regions that planted earlier tended to escape the worst impacts on their harvests.
In mid-February, nearly a month before the recent hot spell, the government said India was on course to harvest an all-time high 111.32 million tonnes of the grain, up from the previous year’s 109.59 million tonnes. The government has 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.
“The heat spell (in March) occurred very fast and also matured the crop at a faster pace, which shriveled the grain size,” JDS Gill, the agriculture information officer in the state of Punjab, told India Today. “This also resulted in a drop in yield.”
Even though it is the world’s second-largest producer of wheat with nearly 110 million tonnes last year, India exports only a small fraction of its harvest. Potential for a seventh consecutive year of record wheat production and good stockpiles had the country looking to ship more wheat overseas to ease the global disruption of wheat supplies caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and develop new markets in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
India had been projected to set a record for wheat exports in the 2021-22 marketing year at nearly 9 million tonnes and perhaps double that amount in the following season, according to Piyush Goyal, India’s commerce minister. That level now looks uncertain given the smaller potential yield and need to balance domestic needs for its 1.4 billion people.