Pakistan expects record wheat crop

Peter McMeekin - Grain Brokers Australia, April 23, 2024

A trial plot of Akbar 2019 wheat growing in Pakistan. Photo: Ayub Agricultural Research Institute, Faisalabad

THE 2023-24 wheat harvest in Pakistan has been under way for around a month now and, while output is expected to be a record thanks to an increase in the area planted last autumn, it is forecast to fall short of the government’s early season production target.

Wheat is Pakistan’s most important crop, both in terms of food security and total planted area. In respect of food security, wheat accounts for 70 percent of the nation’s annual calorie intake. Of the total planted wheat area almost 40pc, or 9.12 million hectares (Mha), was sown to wheat in October, November and December last year for the 2024 harvest. This is up from the 8.86Mha planted in 2022 for the 2023 harvest, and is slightly higher than the 9Mha a year earlier.

Fertiliser sub-optimal

However, cumulative fertiliser purchases by farmers during the growing season are 3.2pc lower than last year. While phosphate and potash sales increased by 8.3pc and 45.9pc respectively, nitrogen sales decreased by 6.4pc due to price gouging.

Some unscrupulous manipulation of urea prices led to a doubling of the price of the essential crop input during the growing season. The persistently high urea prices, combined with a dry December and January, resulted in less-than-ideal application rates at critical junctures in the crop cycle, likely resulting in yield penalties this harvest.

As a result, Pakistan’s 2024-25 season (May-Apr) wheat production is forecast to be lower than the government’s ambitious early season forecast of 32.11 million tonnes (Mt). Nonetheless, it is still expected to be a record 28.8Mt according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, thanks to an increase in the use of certified seed and improved irrigation efficiencies. The current crop projection is a 2.1pc increase on the 28.2Mt harvested last year, and 9.1pc higher than the 2022 harvest of 26.2Mt.

Disease and pest reduction

Fungal plant pathogen rust has traditionally been a yield-limiting factor in Pakistan’s wheat crop each season. The combination of below-average rainfall in December and January, resulting in reduced humidity in the crop canopy, and the higher adoption rates of certified seed with rust-resistant traits meant that there were no reports of significant rust outbreaks during the reproductive phase of the crop cycle when it would usually have the most significant yield impact. Similarly, there were no reports of locust or other severe pest outbreaks this year, each contributing to the current record output projection.

Breeding highlight

One of the success stories in Pakistan’s wheat-breeding program is the new biofortified variety Akbar 2019. The zinc-enriched cultivar is known for its improved nutritional value, increased disease resistance, and higher yield potential. Approximately 42pc of the nation’s wheat area was dedicated to Akbar 2019 in last autumn’s planting program, and final production is expected to be as much as 15Mt when the current harvest campaign is completed.

The two principal wheat-producing provinces are Sindh, with around 13pc of the total area, and Punjab, with around 74pc of the total area. While the harvest has been completed in most districts of Sindh province, it is just ramping up in the southern districts of Punjab. Widespread rains just as the Punjab harvest commenced delayed field work over the past couple of weeks and have led to some quality downgrades, but it is not expected to have a material impact on final production at this stage.

The official wheat intervention prices are set at the provincial level and are unchanged for the 2024 harvest compared to last season. In Punjab, it currently sits at 3900 Pakistan Rupee (Rs) per 40kg bag (A$545/t), while the Sindh Government set the price at Rs4000/40kg bag ($559/t). Nevertheless, Pakistan’s farmers are not happy and are threatening protests, demanding the government increase the support price to Rs5000/40kg bag ($700/t), as well as increasing the procurement target from 2Mt to 5Mt this harvest.

High consumption

Wheat consumption per capita in Pakistan is amongst the highest in the world at around 124kg per annum. Population growth in conjunction with the consumer preference for wheat-based products is expected to push domestic demand 2.3pc higher in 2024-25 to 30.9Mt. Total use by the stockfeed industry is only 1.9Mt, or 6.1pc of total demand, with the poultry sector accounting for more than 80pc of that drawdown.

Wheat imports in the current season totalled 2.8Mt to the end of February, with another 500,000t discharged in March. The government has indicated that imports would be stopped at the beginning of April, leaving the 2023-24 total at 3.3Mt. Around 70pc of the imports came from Russia, up from less than 25pc a year earlier, with some of the recent purchases settled in United Arab Emirati dirhams. The average landed price of US$290/t (A$450/t) is significantly lower than the government’s domestic intervention price of around US$350/t (A$545/t).

Changes to trade policy

Prior to the 2023-24 marketing year, the state-owned Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) purchased most of the country’s wheat-import requirements. That all changed in July last year when the government allowed the private sector to import wheat duty free. However, private-sector import approvals were reportedly halted as of March 31, and there is no indication as yet they will resume during the 2024-25 marketing year.

FAS expects wheat carry-in stocks for the 2024-25 season to be very close to a record at 4.7Mt, up from 3.9Mt in the current season, and well above the government’s minimum strategic-reserve requirement of 2.5Mt. The higher-than-average opening stocks combined with the record production outlook mean that wheat imports are likely to drop significantly to 1Mt in 2024-25. However, any change in the final crop size this harvest is likely to be reflected in an equal and opposite change in the ultimate import requirement in 2024-25.

Apart from the private-sector imports, wheat production and marketing in Pakistan continues to be largely government controlled. The regionally controlled minimum guaranteed support price provides an incentive for farmers to plant wheat each season. The acquired wheat is then sold at a mandated price to flour millers, with the government tightly controlling the quantity, price and time of release.

However, as demand continues to increase quickly with population growth and a burgeoning middle class, it is the country’s lack of hard currency reserves to finance wheat imports that could prove the biggest impediment to meeting the country’s future food-security priorities.




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