Union Food Secretary Sanjeev Chopra said damage to wheat crops is unlikely, although temperatures are a bit warmer, and said he was confident of reaching a record production of 112 million tonnes in this crop year ending in June.
The secretary said the ban on wheat exports would continue, increasing the availability of grain for government markets.
He said the government would buy around 35 million tonnes of wheat in the 2023-24 marketing year (April-March).
Most purchases of wheat, one of the main rabi crops, take place between April and June.
Mr. Chopra said wheat prices had fallen and would fall further after the arrival of the new crop. “(Wednesday) we had a meeting with the state food secretaries, which was followed by a meeting with the state food ministers. And what we discovered in the meeting is that the food scenario in the country is very, very comfortable,” Mr. Chopra said on the sidelines of an event Thursday night.
The meteorological service made a presentation regarding the weather conditions, he added.
“As such, no heat wave of a magnitude that would damage the wheat crop is expected during the next two weeks, which is a crucial time for grain formation,” the secretary said.
“So to date, there are no reports of shrunken wheat or any other adverse wheat crop conditions,” Chopra said.
It hoped to reach the expected production of 112.18 million tonnes this crop year, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s second advance estimate.
India’s wheat production fell by 107.74 million tonnes in the 2021-22 crop year (July-June) from 109.59 million tonnes in the previous year due to the heat wave in some key producing states.
“There are no unfavorable weather conditions at the moment. The temperature is above normal by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, but the fact remains that it will not have a negative impact on wheat,” Mr. Chopra said.
“…although temperatures are slightly warmer, no damage is expected to wheat crops,” he said.
Asked about the impact on retail wheat prices following the government’s decision to sell 5 million tonnes of wheat on the open market, Chopra said rates had fallen by almost 10%.
“Mandi prices, which we were concerned about, are also gradually declining,” he noted.
Modal wheat prices at mandi level fell to ₹2,300 per quintal from ₹2,800 per quintal on January 25 when the open market selling scheme (OMSS) was launched, he informed.
Prices are relative to the previous season’s wheat coming to market.
“So as we start to bring this season’s wheat to market, obviously we’ll see prices come down more,” Chopra said.
When asked if a larger quantity would be sold under the OMSS, he said the 5 million tonnes announced so far would be sufficient.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has already sold about 2.34 million tonnes of wheat to large consumers out of the planned 4.5 million tonnes. Two more rounds of auctions will take place this month.
“So hopefully more inventory will be lifted and prices have already come down,” Chopra said.
The secretary said the government had set a supply target of 34.1 million tonnes of wheat for the 2023-24 marketing year.
“So 341 lakh tonnes (34.1 million tonnes) should put us in a very comfortable position in terms of our stocks,” he said.
The average wheat supply was 35 million tonnes, Chopra said, answering a question about the government’s lower target.
The Center had bought about 44 million tons in the 2021-22 marketing year, but it fell to almost 19 million tons in 2022-23.
The government needs around 1.5 million tonnes per month for the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other social protection programmes.
Asked about the private trade’s buying strategy this year, Chopra said: “As the export ban will continue, we expect there will be more wheat available for public markets.” . For now, he said, the government has no proposal to lift the export ban. The government banned wheat exports in May last year to control wheat and atta prices.
On the chances of wheat prices falling below the MSP with the arrival of new crops hurting farmers’ interest, the secretary said rates would stay around the MSP only.
Regarding plans to lift the ban on broken rice, the secretary said there was no proposal at the moment and the government would seek to allow exports when it feels comfortable. with national food security.