WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — India’s wheat production is forecast in marketing year 2016-17 to be at 88 million tonnes, marginally higher than last year’s late-season-rains-affected harvest (86.5 million tonnes), but significantly lower than the market year 2014-15 record harvest (95.9 million tonnes), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) said in a Feb. 26 report.

Upcoming wheat crop prospects have been adversely affected by lower planting and expected “lower than normal” yields due to moisture and temperature stress at the time of planting and early vegetative growth stage. India’s preliminary estimate pegs 2016 wheat production optimistically at a near record 93.8 million tonnes, but trade sources are currently estimating the crop in the range of 82 million tonnes to 88 million tonnes. Based on India’s final estimates, market year 2015-16 wheat production is revised lower to 86.5 million tonnes.

Despite India’s wheat crop being largely (91%) irrigated, residual soil moisture from the previous kharif season (fall planted), winter rains and temperatures critically influence planting and yield prospects. Due to the deficient and early withdrawal of the 2015 monsoon, sowing of the 2016 wheat crop commenced in October under “poor” soil moisture conditions. Deficient to scanty rainfall across the major wheat growing areas (northwest and central India) during planting (October through December) affected the progress of planting, crop establishment and early crop growth due to antecedent soil moisture stress. Currently, India’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates market year 2016-17 wheat area at 29.4 million hectares, about 4% lower than last year’s record planting.

Agriculture experts report that “higher than normal” day temperature during October through first week of January caused further stress to the plant affecting vegetative growth, the report said. Reports suggest that higher temperatures induced early panicle initiation in the early planted wheat (by first week of November) and reports of rust in some pockets, which is likely to affect the overall yield prospects.

Rains and cooler temperatures since the second week of January are likely to benefit the standing crop and improve the yield prospects in the late planted (December) wheat. Assuming normal weather conditions from now through harvest (May), India’s market year 2016-17 is forecast to yield 2.99 tonnes per hectare, higher compared to last year’s rain-affected yield of 2.83 tonnes per hectare, but lower than the average yields (3 to 3.1 tonnes per hectare) over the last few years. India’s first official estimate optimistically estimates yield at 3.19 tonnes per hectare, even higher than the market year 2014-15 record yield of 3.15 tonnes per hectare. An early or sudden rise in temperature during flowering and grain filling stage (March) and heavy rains or hailstorm at the time of harvest (April/May) could potentially further affect the forecast yield and quality realization.

Indian wheat is largely soft/medium hard, medium protein, white bread wheat, somewhat similar to U.S. hard white wheat. Wheat grown in central and western India is typically harder, with higher protein and gluten, compared to wheat from northern India. India also produces about 1 million tonnes of durum wheat in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.