NEW DELHI, Sept 28 (Reuters) - India's soybean output couldbe 2.4 percent up on last year at 12.98 million tonnes, a toptrade body said on Saturday, adding its voice to the recentdebate over the size of the key harvest.
Indian farmers planted 14.3 percent more land with soybeansthis year at 12.22 million hectares, which the government andsome experts feel has translated into higher output althoughothers say heavy late rains have lowered the yield of the crop.
For its forecast on Saturday, the Soybean ProcessorsAssociation of India (SOPA) estimated yields would be 1,079kilogram per hectare in 2013/14, down 8.9 percent from 1,185kilogram per hectare in 2012/13.
"Excess monsoon rains in the main producing state of MadhyaPradesh has reduced the crop yield," said Rajesh Agrawal,coordinator of SOPA.
India uses soybean to make soyoil, which helps the countrycut its hefty edible oil imports, while the by-product soymealis used in animal feed and exported, mainly to Southeast Asia.
India is Asia's leading oilmeal exporter and the world'sbiggest vegetable oil importer. The government is trying toreduce its dependency on imported oils by encouraging soybeanplanting by raising minimum prices offered to farmers.
An early, heavy start to the June-September monsoon broughta larger area under soybeans and also gave an early expectationof at least 18 percent higher output for the oilseed crop in theyear that started July 1, 2013.
But as the rainy season advanced, expectations decreasedgradually due to heavy downpours in central India, the maingrowing belt for the crop.
Last weekend, at a global conference in Mumbai on edibleoils, there were two differing views.
India's leading edible oils refiner Adani Wilmar peggedoutput of soybeans in 2013/14 as high as 13.5-14 million tonnes,while executives at soybean processor Ruchi Soya feltrain damage would contain output at last year's levels, whichthey said would be 11 million tonnes.
The government in its first estimate earlier this week forthe current crop year had said soybean output could be 15.68million tonnes. It is normally conservative in its earlyforecasts.
Farmers grow soybeans once in a year during the rainy monthsof July and August, and harvest the main summer oilseed cropfrom October. (Reporting by Ratnajyoti Dutta; Editing by Jo Winterbottom andDavid Evans)