HANOI, VIETNAM — Vietnam’s 2015 summer/autumn rice production is estimated at a record level of 14.8 million tonnes and the winter crop output is anticipated to remain close to last year’s high level, according to a Dec. 28 GIEWS Country Brief from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Good yields help offset a marginal contraction in planted area. Overall, the 2015 aggregate rice production, including the winter/spring harvested earlier in the year, is set at 45.1 million tonnes, close to the 2014 record level. On average, the winter/spring paddy crop amounts to about 46% of the annual paddy production, while the remaining two seasons, summer/autumn and winter, account for 32% and 22%, respectively.

Rice exports in 2015 are forecast at 8.3 million tonnes, 4% up from last year’s high level, reflecting strong import demand from China and a recent large contract with Indonesia.

The wholesale prices of rice, the main staple food, increased considerably in November, underpinned by large government-to-government deals with the Philippines and Indonesia. Overall, rice prices remained lower than their year-earlier levels following two consecutive years of bumper outputs.

Vietnam’s planting of the 2016, mostly irrigated, main winter/spring rice paddy crop started in mid-November in the south and continues until March in the north,

Overall, favorable weather conditions and fewer incidences of floods since November allowed farmers to start planting early. According to official estimates from the General Statistics Office (GSO), as of mid-December, winter/spring rice in the south had been sown on 1.1 million hectares, some 4% above the area planted by the same time last year. Despite the fast pace in this season’s paddy plantings so far, which is positive for the production outlook, there are some concerns over low water levels in the Mekong River, following considerably reduced rains since early 2015, associated with the ongoing strong El Niño event in the upper basin countries, namely Cambodia and Laos. The low water levels for irrigation coupled with less alluvial deposits in the fields and intensified salinity intrusion, could have a negative impact on the yield potential of the winter/spring crop.

Harvesting of the 2015 summer/autumn season crop was completed in October and that of the minor winter crop is nearing completion. Below-average rainfall from April to July over the Central Highlands, North Central and Central Coastal areas, and parts of the southern main rice-growing Mekong River Delta, delayed planting of both crops. A more normal pattern of rains resumed from late July over the main rice producing areas, allowing the pace of paddy planting to pick up. The improved moisture conditions were also beneficial for yields.

Official estimates put the 2015 aggregate (winter/spring and summer/autumn) maize crop at a record level of 5.3 million tonnes, up 2% from the 2014 bumper level. The year-on-year increase is the result of a record 2015 main winter/spring harvest. Some losses of the 2015 summer/autumn crops were caused by prolonged dry weather from April to July, particularly over parts of Central Highlands, North Central and Central Coastal areas.