MUMBAI (REUTERS) - Chicken prices in India soared to a record high after a heat wave killed more than 17 million birds in May, as temperatures regularly above 40 deg C led to mounting casualties among livestock as well as humans.
May and June are typically India's hottest months but this year temperatures have been above normal in some regions partly due to the emergence of an El Nino weather pattern, which in 2009 brought the worst drought in four decades to the country.
The millions of dead birds will be a major blow both for the growing poultry sector in the world's second-most populous country and for local corn producers who were hoping rising feed consumption would soak up their grain supplies.
India has been struggling to export corn after global prices hit five-year lows late last year on record US and South American production. And the outlook has now been further muddied by indications the country's poultry producers may not consume as much of the grain as previously expected.
"In the last two-three weeks poultry feed demand has fallen nearly 30 per cent," said K V Krishna Charan, general manager at feed producer Komaral Feeds and Foods Pvt Ltd.
Prices of corn and soymeal have dropped nearly 4 per cent in May due to the weak demand driven by higher bird mortality.
Usually bird mortality rate remains around 2-3 per cent during summer, but it rose to 10 per cent last month amid the scorching heat, said Prasanna Pedgaonkar, deputy general manager at chicken processor Venky's.
With more than 17 million broiler chickens dying in May - the highest ever deaths per month - wholesale chicken prices in western India jumped to a record 95 rupees (S$2) per kg, up 35 per cent over a month.
A ban imposed by the western state of Maharashtra on beef also contributed to the rise in chicken prices, offsetting a drop earlier in the year when a bird flu outbreak pushed down prices to below production costs.
Chicken is set to become more costly as mercury levels continue to rise in June, industry sources said.
Broiler chickens cannot survive if the temperature stays above 45 deg C for long, said Vasant Kumar, president of the Poultry Breeders Welfare Association of Maharashtra.
Maximum temperature in the southern states Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which account for a third of India's poultry output, rose above 47 deg C last week, 3 to 7 degrees above normal, killing more than 2,100 people.
India was expecting monsoons to bring some relief, but the arrival of the June-September rains over the southern coast of Kerala has been delayed. The rains are now expected to reach by June 4, instead of May 30, a weather department official said.
"Temperatures need to go down. Further extension of the heat wave by a week can kill a few more million birds," said Pedgaonkar from Venky's.