Vietnam's rice output in 2012 is expected to remain steady at this year's record levels of around 42 million tons of unhusked grain, a government minister said on Friday, which could help ensure supply in Asia and soften food prices.
"We will strive to keep production figure next year at least on par with this year," Deputy Agriculture Minister Bui Ba Bong told Reuters.
A steady production in Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, would help provide some supply reassurance amid forecasts calling for a 50 percent drop in Thailand's 2012 exports to 5 million tons.
The output target would be achieved despite a delay caused by floods in the planting of the winter-spring crop, Vietnam's biggest crop with grain used mostly for export, Bong said, dismissing earlier worries in the rice industry.
He was speaking on the sidelines of an international conference looking at stopping the misuse of pesticide on rice fields across Asia.
The delay in planting the winter-spring crop prompted Vietnam to cut its paddy output projection by 1.2 percent next year to 41 million tons, Director Nguyen Tri Ngoc of the ministry's Crops Department was quoted on Thursday as saying.
Vietnam's average rice yield has been rising in the past two decades, reaching 5.3 ton per hectare now -- the highest among Southeast Asian nations -- from 3 tons in 1990, Bong told scientists and government officials at the conference.
He declined to comment on Vietnam's rice export target for 2012, saying it was in the hand of the trade ministry.
Record volume in 2011
Ngoc was quoted on Thursday by a state-run newspaper as saying the nation's rice export next year could fall to 6.5 million tons after shipping a record 7.2 million tons in 2010.
As of Dec. 15, Vietnam has exported 6.89 million tons of rice, up 6 percent from a year earlier and higher than a record shipment of 6.83 million tons in the whole of 2010, the Vietnam Food Association said in a weekly report.
Its revenues rose to $3.38 billion, from $3.21 billion for the whole of 2010, suggesting the average export price so far this year has risen to $490 a ton, free-on-board basis, from $470 a ton last year.
Vietnam would have around 7 million tons of milled rice available for export in 2012, based on Bong's assessment of 42 million tons of paddy and domestic paddy consumption of 27.33 million tons estimated by the Agriculture Ministry.
If the export volume is lowered while production is seen steady, Vietnam could have a larger stockpile of rice in 2012, which may lead to lower domestic prices, which is in line with a government target to cut inflation next year.
Paddy price stood at VND6,200-7,200 (29.5-34.3 US cents) per kg in the Mekong Delta food basket this week, softening from the year high of 8,200 dong reached in early November but up 5 percent from the end of 2010.
The Vietnamese government has planned to slow the annual inflation, now at around 20 percent -- the highest in Asia -- to below 10 percent in 2012. Food prices account for 8 percent of the price basket used for calculating inflation.
In Thailand, rice production has been affected after recent floods, with damages expected at 6 million tons of the major crop, from 25 million tons it had expected to produce.
"The floods bought us to ground zero, but farmers in Thailand can replant their rice quickly," said Kukiat Soitong, a rice department expert at Thailand's Agriculture Ministry.
He did not have any immediate forecasts on output for 2012.