By Rajendra Jadhav
MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's wheat plantings remained steady despite a rally in price of the staple to a record as farmers in a key producing central state shifted to rapeseed to take advantage of even higher prices for the oilseed, farm ministry data showed on Monday.
A lower-than-expected planting area in the world's second biggest wheat producer may cap an expected rise in production, after output fell last year because of a heatwave that forced New Delhi to ban exports amid limited supplies from Black Sea region because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
A rise in rapeseed output could help the world's biggest edible oil importer reduce overseas purchases of palm oil, soyoil and sunflower oil.
The government and industry officials were expecting a substantial increase in wheat cultivation as the crop was offering better returns than competing crops.
Area under wheat rose to 34.32 million hectares (84.8 million acres) for the 2022/23 crop year, up 0.4% from last year's 34.18 million hectares, data released by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare showed.
India grows only one wheat crop in a year, with planting in October and November, and harvests from March.
Domestic wheat prices hit an all-time high of 32,500 rupees ($393.36) per tonne in January, far above the government-fixed buying price of 21,250 rupees.
Farmers in central state of Madhya Pradesh, a leading producer of wheat, surprised forecasts by switching to oilseeds from wheat, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading house.
"Wheat gave farmers good returns, but rapeseed offered even better returns," the dealer said.
Area under rapeseed, the main winter sown oilseed crop, jumped 7.4% from a year ago to a record 9.8 million hectares, the data showed.
The total area of winter-sown crops jumped to a record 72.07 million hectares, higher than last year's 69.8 million hectares, as rice sowing jumped by 32% to 4.63 million hectares.
Late rains in October raised soil moisture levels and helped farmers to increase the area under wheat, rapeseed and other crops, dealers said.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)