Monsoon forecast bodes well for Indian pulse crop harvest

The Indian Meteorological Department anticipates that June to September rainfall will be 98 percent of the country's long-term average of 88 centimetres. | Flickr/McKay Savage photo

The country’s winter crop appears lower than expectations, but the summer crop looks promising, say weather analysts

Weather forecasters predict a normal southwest monsoon for India this summer.

The Indian Meteorological Department anticipates that June to September rainfall will be 98 percent of the country’s long-term average of 88 centimetres.

Drew Lerner, president of World Weather Inc., agrees with that assessment, although he thinks it will be closer to 96 percent of average.

That increases the odds that India will have a decent kharif or summer crop coming off what many expect will be a disappointing rabi or winter crop.

“If someone was holding a gun to my head and said, ‘tell us, is it going to be a good production year or a bad production year?’ I’d say, ‘it’s going to be good’,” said Lerner.

He thinks there will be dry pockets in some states in central and southeast India. He is most concerned about Madhya Pradesh.

That is the largest kharif pulse producing state, accounting for 22 percent of the country’s production in 2020-21.

Lerner does not believe it will be disastrously dry and noted that a little less than normal precipitation doesn’t mean a crop failure.

“If the rains are well-timed it will turn out to be fine,” he said.

G. Chandrashekhar, senior editor of the Hindu Business Line, is encouraged by the IMD forecast, although he noted it would be much worse than last year’s monsoon that ended up delivering 109 percent of average precipitation.

When and where the monsoon rains fall will be critical. The IMD will update its forecast in early June to break down how the rainfall will be distributed by region and by month. He will be watching that forecast closely.

The monsoon rains directly impact the kharif crop. The important pulses grown during that period are pigeon peas, black matpe and moong.

Canadian growers are more interested in the fortunes of the rabi crop, when India’s chickpeas and lentils are produced.

Farmers are in the midst of harvesting the 2020-21 rabi crop and it appears likely that production will fall well short of government targets.

Many in the trade believe growers will harvest about eight million tonnes of chickpeas compared to the government goal of 11.5 million tonnes.

Prices of all three main kharif crops are above the government’s minimum support prices, which will likely encourage growers to plant more of those crops, Chandrashekhar said in an email.

The government has set a kharif pulse production target of 10.5 million tonnes but in the past three years actual production has been closer to eight million tonnes.

Chandrashekhar expects demand from India to pick up during festival season from late July to early August.

“Supplies will get tighter by then,” he said.

He thinks the government will be forced to reduce import duties on lentils and chickpeas around that time due to concerns over food price inflation.

The duty on lentils is 33 percent and the duty on chickpeas is 66 percent.

Chandrashekhar said Indian importers have already purchased 500,000 tonnes of Canadian lentils in anticipation of the duty reduction.

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