Indian farmers expected to harvest another bumper pulse crop

G. Chandrashekhar is willing to be one of the first prognosticators to provide an estimate for India’s rabi season pulse production.

“It is certainly premature to talk about the crop production numbers, yet I’m going to stick my neck out,” the senior editor with the Hindu Business Line told the Global Pulse Confederation during a recent podcast.

India’s government has set a target of 15.7 million tonnes of production but did not provide a crop-by-crop breakdown.

Chandrashekhar, who has 30 years of experience in forecasting and analyzing the country’s pulse production, believes farmers will harvest 15 million tonnes.

That would be the third biggest rabi crop on record, below last year’s 15.44 million tonnes and the 2017-18 bin-buster of 16.11 million tonnes.

Farmers are off to a good start in achieving that lofty number. As of Dec. 11, they had planted 32.26 million acres of pulses, a nine percent increase over the same time last year.

He is forecasting 10.5 million tonnes of chickpeas, 1.3 million tonnes of lentils and 600,000 tonnes of moong.

Sunil Kumar Singh, additional managing director of the National Agricultural Co-operative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), thinks lentil production could exceed Chandrashekhar’s estimate.

During a recent presentation, he said the government is targeting 1.6 million tonnes of production in 2020-21 and two million tonnes the following year.

Singh said that would eliminate the need for imports because India consumes about two million tonnes of red lentils annually.

Chandrashekhar said it is impossible to say if that is the case because there is no concrete data to support the premise that annual consumption is indeed two million tonnes.

However, he noted that imports are likely to slow down dramatically for the remainder of 2020-21.

India has already imported 850,000 tonnes of the crop and may take another 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes before the import duty reduction expires on Dec. 31.

“India has by and large completed all its purchases and I think the world supplies are getting tighter and tighter,” he said.

Chandrashekhar said there is a “strong possibility” that the current import duty concessions will not be extended past Dec. 31.

That means the duty would return to 30 percent on Jan. 1, up from 10 percent.

Lentil prices in India have declined the past couple of weeks to 5,000 to 5,100 rupees per 100 kilograms, down from 5,400 rupees. Market prices are now at, or slightly below, the government’s minimum support price (MSP).

“Given this situation, it is most unlikely the government will extend the duty concession,” he said.

Chickpea prices have also softened in India, falling to 5,000 rupees per 100 kilogram, down from the October highs of 5,500 rupees.

The MSP for the upcoming harvest is 5,100 rupees. That eliminates the case for reducing the 60 percent import duty on chickpeas.

Chandrashekhar was also not hopeful that India is going to reduce its 50 percent tariff or increase its 150,000 tonne quota on peas.

It is a politically sensitive issue because many Indian farmers are under the impression that the low prices of imported yellow peas depress the values they receive for their chickpeas.

“There is some prejudice against yellow peas, which is unfortunate but it is there,” he said.

“I don’t see any prospect of peas coming into India anytime soon.”

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