A slow start to the planting season and a less than expected rise in the price at which the government will buy new-season wheat from farmers had raised some apprehension about a drop in output. But as the weather turned favourable, planting gradually picked up the usual pace.

"Every single trend suggests that we are heading for a harvest as big as last year," Indu Sharma, chief of the state-run Directorate of Wheat Research, told.

But Sharma and her colleagues are keeping an eye out for any sudden rise in temperatures in February and March, as dry weather could damage the crop. The crop has to now been unscathed apart from some minor fungus which was "highly localised", Sharma said.

Indian farmers grow only one wheat crop a year. Planting starts in October, with harvests from April. Wheat acreage hovers between 29 million and 31 million hectares.

The area planted with wheat is 3 percent lower than the previous year, according to provisional data from the farm ministry which updates its numbers as it gathers more information.

The reduction in area was "marginal and well within the range", said Farm Commissioner J.S. Sandhu, who oversees crop planting.

"The last few spells of rains, intermittent fog followed by sunshine and no large-scale pest infestation indicate a big crop size, at least as big as the 2014 harvest," Sandhu said.

In 2014, India, the world's biggest wheat producer after China, harvested a record 95.91 million tonnes, bumping up stocks to three times the target. To make room for the new harvest, the government could allow exports.

But trade experts say India has narrowly missed an opportunity to export wheat as global prices have again nosed down and rival European supplies have become cheaper. Benchmark prices in Chicago on Monday hit a four-month low of USD 4.92-1/4 a bushel.

"The price dynamics changed swiftly and India failed to take a quick call on exports. Now French wheat is available at USD 210-215, (free on board) against Indian wheat which is priced at USD 275 a tonne," said Tajinder Narang, a New Delhi-based trade analyst who advises many big global traders.

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