MUMBAI - India is likely to export 7 million bales of cotton in 2018/19, down 30 percent from an earlier estimate, as scanty rainfall and an attack of pink bollworms are likely to squeeze crop yields, the head of a leading trade body told Reuters.
Lower shipments from the world's biggest producer of the fibre amid rising demand from top consumer China could support global prices, which on Monday were trading near their lowest level in over four months.
A drop in planting area and the pest attack will limit overseas sales to 7 million bales in the marketing year starting on Oct. 1, down from 7.2 million bales in the current crop year, said Atul Ganatra, president of the Cotton Association of India.
"In Gujarat and Maharashtra, rainfall was lower than normal. In some pockets, pink bollworm attacks have also been reported," said Ganatra, who had forecast exports of 10 million bales in June.
Gujarat and Maharashtra account for more than half of the country's total cotton production.
Some regions of these two states received as much as 22 percent less rainfall than normal, according to data compiled by India Meteorological Department.
Farmers have adopted genetically-modified seeds known as Bt cotton that are resistant to bollworms, but it hasn't stopped the infestations.
Pink bollworms consume the fibre and seeds inside a cotton plant's boll, or fruit, and yields fall.
Export demand for shipments in 2018/19 is robust but we could not sign deals due to uncertainty over crop size, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm.
Local cotton prices will rally if production drops substantially and will make it difficult for us to fulfil commitments, the dealer said.
Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Vietnam are key buyers of Indian cotton.
India has so far contracted to export around 600,000 bales to neighbouring China, which has imposed sanctions on shipments from top exporter the United States, Ganatra said.
China's cotton imports in 2018/19 are likely to jump 23 percent from a year ago to 1.6 million tonnes.
India's cotton production would be lower than last year's 36.5 million bales as weather was not conducive for the crop, said Chirag Patel, chief executive at Jaydeep Cotton Fibres Pvt Ltd, a leading exporter.
"It is difficult to estimate crop size now. Production could fall to 32 million bales if the dry spell continues. If we get rains, then we can harvest 36 million bales," Patel said.
Farmers have planted cotton on 11.26 million hectares as of Aug. 10, down 4 percent from a year ago, the farm ministry's data shows.
After attacks last year by the pink bollworm pest, many farmers switched to soybeans.
(1 Indian bale = 170 kg)