* Indian soymeal to S.E. Asia at about $540/T, up 12.5 pct from end-Oct
* Soybean harvest seen at record 12.6m T in 2012, versus 11.6m yr-ago
* India's current soymeal consumption pegged at about 4 m T
By Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI, Nov 22 (Reuters) - India's 2012/13 soymeal exports are likely to remain almost unchanged from year-ago levels, despite a bigger crop, as farmers hold on to stocks hoping strong domestic demand will bring them better prices, industry officials said on Thursday.
Worries that shipments from India, Asia's biggest supplier of soymeal, which exported a record 4.5 million tonnes in 2011/12, will not rise as initially expected, have driven up prices of the animal feed more than 12 percent in about a month.
"Looking at the crop size, we would have been expecting higher exports, but shipments are likely to remain nearly at last year's level," Rajesh Agrawal, coordinator of the Soybean Processors Association of India (SOPA), told Reuters by telephone from the central city of Indore.
Despite a slow start to annual monsoon rains, India harvested a record 12.6 million tonnes of soybean in 2012, Agrawal said, up 8.6 percent from 11.6 million a year ago. His estimate for both years was slightly below a prior SOPA projection.
The Central Organisation for Oil Industry and Trade, another industry body, pegs this year's output at 11.3 million tonnes, up 6.6 percent from 10.6 million a year ago.
But farmers are building stocks instead of offloading them, slowing exports since the new season began in October, Agrawal added.
Farmers in India, the world's biggest vegetable oil importer and Asia's leading oilmeal exporter, plant soybean in the rainy months of July and August. The harvest starts from October.
"We hope farmers will gradually start selling their stocks and exports will pick up. India typically faces competition from South America after February when their supplies pick up. We must make the best out of it before supplies from South America hit the market," Agrawal said.
Indian soymeal is currently being exported to Southeast Asia at about $540 a tonne, including cost and freight, traders said, up from $480 a tonne in end-October.
China, Vietnam, and South Korea are the top buyers.
DOMESTIC SOYBEAN PRICES MAY RISE
Domestic prices of soybean, which is crushed to produce vegetable oils and meal for animal feed, may also climb as farmers remain reluctant to sell stocks amid hopes soymeal prices will gain on strong demand at home.
Soybean prices are at about 3,300 rupees ($59.87) per 100 kg and many farmers believe rates will scale up to the previous year's level of about 4,500 rupees, Agrawal said.
Changing food habits have pushed up meat consumption in India, in turn boostING annual domestic soymeal demand 10 percent in the past two years. Current consumption is 4 million tonnes, trade and industry officials said, up from about 3.5 million the previous year. ($1=55.1150 Indian rupees) (Additional reporting by Ratnajyoti Dutta; Editing by Himani Sarkar)