NEW DELHI, INDIA — Suffering under blistering heat since critical milking/grain filling stage in mid-March, India’s wheat yields are down 10% to 15%, dropping forecasted production from 110 million tonnes to 99 million tonnes for marketing year 2022-23, according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

USDA Post New Delhi conducted a scheduled field crop tour May 2-6 to assess winter-planted season wheat crop production in the important production states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to assess. 

The crop had been progressing well under adequate moisture and temperature conditions throughout February, raising expectations for a record harvest of upwards of 110 million tonnes, up from last year’s record 109.6 tonnes. However, the spike in temperatures during the crop’s milking/grain filling stage has affected grain setting, resulting in smaller grain size and higher immature/shriveled grains.

“Yields across India’s wheat belt are 11% lower than anticipated, with yield levels in some areas off 20% to 30%,” the USDA said. “Uttar Pradesh and Bihar along with Madhya Pradesh are among India’s leading wheat producers and supply grains for both the private trade and for exports.”

As a result of anticipated losses, the Indian government on May 13 announced a ban on wheat exports, with strictly limited exceptions, citing the sudden spike in global wheat prices and the resulting food security risks to India. 

Following the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, India emerged as a potentially important wheat exporter for the Middle East/South Asia region due to global supply disruptions. India is the world’s second largest wheat producer trailing only China, but only recently began to make its presence felt in the export market while ensuring adequate supplies for its 1.4 billion people.

In 2021-22, India exported 8.5 million tonnes of wheat, and the USDA had projected a record 10 million tonnes to export for 2022-23 before the heat wave slashed April harvest projections of what was anticipated to be a seventh straight bumper crop. Indian government sources suggested up to 14 million tonnes of wheat might have been available for shipment.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupting wheat exports from the Black Sea region, India’s contribution to the global market had been welcome. Though it would have only represented about 5% of the world’s wheat trade, nations heavily dependent on Black Sea wheat, such as Egypt, had been reaching out to India for the staple food grain.

Wheat may now only be shipped from the country for two reasons — where there is an arrangement involving an irrevocable letter of credit that was issued before the date of the ban and with permission granted by the government of India to other countries to meet their food security needs.

“Sources report that 5 million tonnes to 6 million tonnes of wheat were under contract for exports in the first four months of marketing year 2022-23,” the USDA said. “Under the current market supply situation, India’s wheat exports in 2022-23 would barely touch upon 6 million tonnes.”