Weather threatens Indian winter crops just before harvesting

Farmers use a combine to deposit harvested wheat on the outskirts of Indore
Farmers use a combine to deposit harvested wheat into a tractor trailer, on a field on the outskirts of Indore, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, India, March 22, 2022. Picture taken March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Rajendra Jadhav/

MUMBAI, March 16 (Reuters) - Untimely rains and hailstorms could damage India's key winter-sown crops such as wheat, rapeseed and chickpeas just before harvesting begins for plants that have already suffered some heat stress, industry and weather department officials said.

India's weather department has warned key growing states in central, northern, and western regions could receive more rain and hailstorms in the next 10 days. That could curtail production and lift food inflation, which the government and central bank have been trying to contain.

A drop in wheat production could make it difficult for New Delhi to replenish inventories, while lower rapeseed output could force the world's biggest edible oils buyer to increase imports of palm oil, soyoil and sunflower oil.

"Rainfall and hailstorms are raising concerns, since harvesting of winter crops just started. The standing crops would be affected, and it could reduce the output," said Harish Galipelli, director at ILA Commodities India Pvt Ltd.

Farmers usually start planting wheat, rapeseed and chickpeas in October and November, and harvest them from the end of February.

Hailstorms and gusts of more than 30 kilometre per hour winds could hit states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra in the next few days, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

Winter-sown crops have already been under stress because of above-normal temperatures and maturing early, said farmer Ramrai Bohara from Rajasthan, the biggest rapeseed producing state.

The maximum temperature in some wheat growing areas jumped above 39 degrees Celsius earlier this month, nearly seven degrees Celsius above normal, according to weather department data.

"We don't want rainfall and windy weather for two-three weeks. Crops would fall and harvesting will become difficult," Bohara said.

Rainfall would not only reduce yields but could also reduce the quality of the harvest, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading house.

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav Editing by Mark Potter

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