Indian farmers can’t catch a weather break

Indian farmers must have a dreaded feeling of déjà vu.

They’ve already suffered two consecutive disappointing summer monsoons and now rain has appeared as it did last year just as the winter crop was about to be harvested.

In last week’s column, I drew attention to rain in IndiaMarch 6-7 that might have damaged crops.

On the weekend, another widespread weather system again brought rain, hail and wind to parts of India’s northern breadbasket and across the border in Pakistan.

More rain was expected this week.

As this column was written, government officials were heading out to try to determine the extent of the damage from the storms. Indian newspapers were quoting crop experts who said the damage was relatively light but could get worse if more rain comes.

That is what happened last year when a series of wet weather systems delayed harvest and fed disease outbreaks.

The pulse crop wound up seven percent smaller than the February government forecast and the wheat crop was down about 10 percent.

This year the private grain trade already had forecasts substantially below the government’s rosy outlook issued in February.

We report this week in this section that analysts think seeded area of peas and lentils could jump by 30 percent in Canada.

India’s hardship should mean that Canada’s increased production will have an easier time finding a market.

Closer to home, winter returned to the Canadian Prairies this week, and the cold weather was forecast to extend down into the southern U.S. Plains, where concern also has been building about the lack of moisture in the past few months. Subsoil moisture is better than in recent years, but the topsoil is drying out fast.

The Kansas May wheat contract rallied 33 cents a bushel, or seven percent, from March 1-14 on the back of that dry weather concern.

Now attention is turning to freezing weather.

As this column was written March 14, the long-range forecast was for lows on the morning of March 18 to drop to around -9 to -4 C in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.

Normally this would not be an issue because the crop would not be far enough along to be vulnerable.

But the southern Plains region has been basking in unusually warm weather and some wheat in southern Kansas is in the jointing stage, which could make it susceptible to damage if the lows last for several hours.

Experts quoted by Reuters March 14 believed that the damage would likely not be bad.

However, the risk remains that the early development could endanger the crop if there is an April frost.

Remember that global wheat stocks are ample, limiting the up-side to any market rally.

However, any reduction in 2016 crops would help make the long-term wheat market outlook less depressing.

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