NEW DELHI, Sept 28 (Reuters) - India's soybean output could be 2.4 percent up on last year at 12.98 million tonnes, a top trade body said on Saturday, adding its voice to the recent debate over the size of the key harvest.
Indian farmers planted 14.3 percent more land with soybeans this year at 12.22 million hectares, which the government and some experts feel has translated into higher output although others say heavy late rains have lowered the yield of the crop.
For its forecast on Saturday, the Soybean Processors Association of India (SOPA) estimated yields would be 1,079 kilogram per hectare in 2013/14, down 8.9 percent from 1,185 kilogram per hectare in 2012/13.
"Excess monsoon rains in the main producing state of Madhya Pradesh has reduced the crop yield," said Rajesh Agrawal, coordinator of SOPA.
India uses soybean to make soyoil, which helps the country cut its hefty edible oil imports, while the by-product soymeal is used in animal feed and exported, mainly to Southeast Asia.
India is Asia's leading oilmeal exporter and the world's biggest vegetable oil importer. The government is trying to reduce its dependency on imported oils by encouraging soybean planting by raising minimum prices offered to farmers.
An early, heavy start to the June-September monsoon brought a larger area under soybeans and also gave an early expectation of at least 18 percent higher output for the oilseed crop in the year that started July 1, 2013.
But as the rainy season advanced, expectations decreased gradually due to heavy downpours in central India, the main growing belt for the crop.
Last weekend, at a global conference in Mumbai on edible oils, there were two differing views.
India's leading edible oils refiner Adani Wilmar pegged output of soybeans in 2013/14 as high as 13.5-14 million tonnes, while executives at soybean processor Ruchi Soya felt rain damage would contain output at last year's levels, which they said would be 11 million tonnes.
The government in its first estimate earlier this week for the current crop year had said soybean output could be 15.68 million tonnes. It is normally conservative in its early forecasts.
Farmers grow soybeans once in a year during the rainy months of July and August, and harvest the main summer oilseed crop from October. (Reporting by Ratnajyoti Dutta; Editing by Jo Winterbottom and David Evans)