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Scorching heat delays India's rapeseed sowing, to limit acreage

MUMBAI - Above normal temperatures have delayed rapeseed sowing in India's top producing region by more than a fortnight and restricted acreage expansion, even though prices are trading near record highs, industry officials said.

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An Indian scientist holds a genetically modified rapeseed crop under trial in New Delhi in this file photo. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/Files.
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MUMBAI - Above normal temperatures have delayed rapeseed sowing in India's top producing region by more than a fortnight and restricted acreage expansion, even though prices are trading near record highs, industry officials said.

The delays are helping support rapeseed prices and could force the world's biggest edible oil importer to increase overseas purchases of soft oils like canola, soybean and sunflower.

"Farmers were forced to delay sowing due to high temperatures. In Rajasthan, the temperature was hovering around 37 degrees Celsius," said Govindbhai Patel, who has been trading edible oils for more than four decades.

The veteran Indian trader said the temperature needed to fall below 30C.

The North-western state of Rajasthan is the country's top rapeseed producer, where temperatures have hovered 3C to 6C above normal in October.

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The price of a contract, representing both mustard seed and rapeseed, since crops grow in the same areas, has surged by a third in the last six months to record highs.

"Rapeseed area is likely to remain more or less stable," said B.V. Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors' Association (SEA).

The area of rapeseed stood at 6.5 million hectares last year.

"Prices of pulses, like green gram and chickpea, have risen sharply and they are now competing with rapeseed for area," Mehta said.

Chickpea and green gram prices spiked to record highs recently on tight supplies.

Rapeseed output is difficult to forecast as soil moisture has depleted and the emergence of an El Nino could lead to lower rainfall in the next few months, Patel said.

Japan's weather bureau earlier this month said an El Nino weather pattern could stretch into spring.

Rapeseed stocks have dwindled due to last year's poor harvest and prices will remain firm until supplies start from the new season crop, said K N Rahiman, chief research officer at Ruchi Soya, the country's biggest edible oil refiner.

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India's rapeseed production in 2014/15 dropped 23 percent from a year ago to 5 million tons.

It forced India to more than double imports of canola oil in November to September to 339,800 tons.

Some farmers like Vijaysingh Naruka from Jaipur in Rajasthan usually complete sowing by mid October, but this year they have just started cultivation.

"I wanted to increase the rapeseed area to 30 acres, but now am planning to sow on 15 acres due to high temperatures. Seeds are expensive. I don't want to take risk," says Naruka.

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