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Thai officials dressed in traditional costumes feed oxen during the annual royal ploughing ceremony during the annual royal ploughing ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's new King Maha Vajiralongkorn attended an annual ploughing ceremony on Friday where sacred oxen predicted a bountiful harvest, auguring well for the world's second largest rice exporter's hopes of selling more this year.

The royal ploughing ceremony is an ancient Brahminical rite which heralds the start of the new rice growing season.

Broadcast on state television, the rite is celebrated in Thailand as a national holiday for state employees. Thailand is the world's second-largest rice exporter and the grain is a staple food in the Southeast Asian country.

King Vajiralongkorn was accompanied by his eldest daughter as he presided over the ceremony, during which oxen draped in red and gold circled a ceremonial ground nine times.

The number nine is considered a very lucky number in Thailand where it is pronounced "Gao" which rhymes with a word meaning to move forward or progress.

Thanit Anekwit, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, read the prediction after the ceremony, which marks the start of the new rice-planting season.

"This year there will be enough water, and grains, fruits, food, meat will be abundant," Thanit said.

"There will be ample rice in the fields."

In the deeply superstitious country, an auspicious start to the harvest season will be seen by some as a good omen for the new king's reign.

Thailand aimed its paddy rice production this year at 25-26 million tonnes for 2017 to 2018, down from 30 million tonnes in the last crop year.

The country also aims to export 10 million tonnes of rice in 2017, a little more than the 9.63 million tonnes it was able to export in 2016. It has exported 3.87 million tonnes so far this year.

Thai benchmark 5-percent broken rice was quoted as high as $387-$392 a tonne, free-on-board (FOB) Bangkok, on Thursday, and was being undercut by rice from Vietnam, Thailand's main competitor.

Similar grade rice from Vietnam was trading at $355-360 a tonne, FOB Saigon.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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