India expects record wheat crop

India, the world's second-largest wheat producer, said Friday it expects this year's wheat output to total a record 82 million tonnes as the country grapples with a grain storage problem.

India produced a record 80.71 million tonnes of wheat in the 2009-10 crop year, which runs from July to June, despite the worst drought in nearly four decades.

"If there is no terminal heat this year, output is expected to be 82 million tonnes," Agriculture Secretary P K Basu told the Press Trust of India.

Wheat output would be helped by India's bountiful monsoon, which has filled reservoirs to the brink, ensuring plentiful irrigation for the winter-sown crop, he said.

Basu did not comment on media speculation that record output could prompt the government to lift a ban on wheat exports as it grapples with problems storing the 60 million tons of wheat it already has in stock.

India's media has reported large-scale spoilage of grains due to insufficient warehouse storage space.

India had to import about seven million tonnes of wheat in 2006 and 2007 after poor harvests and has banned exports of wheat since early 2007 to boost domestic availability but now is dealing with a problem of plenty.

The Supreme Court ordered the government in August to distribute excess grain to the poor, saying it was "a crime to waste even a grain of food" as long as people were hungry.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh replied this week the government would do all it could to provide affordable food to the poor but that it was "not possible in this country to give free food to all the poor people."

Analysts say massive investment is needed to modernise India's food supply chain and sharply reduce wastage.

pmc/bsk

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