June 17, 2019 / 10:43 AM / 3 months ago

Summer crop sowing lags in India on slow monsoon progress

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Planting of summer-sown crops in India such as soybean, cotton, rice and corn has been delayed by at least two weeks because of the slow progress of monsoon rains in central and western parts of the country, raising concerns over lower production.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer removes dried plants from his parched paddy field at Narimanpura village, on the outskirts of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad July 30, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Lower production of soybeans could force India to raise imports of edible oils such as palm oil and soyoil, while a drop in cotton output could limit the world’s biggest fiber producer’s exports. Lower rice output could hit shipments from the world’s biggest exporter.

“Monsoon rainfall is delayed. Farmers could not start sowing on the time,” said Atul Ganatra, president of the Cotton Association of India.

Farmers have so far planted summer-sown crops on 8.22 million hectares (20.3 million acres), down 9% compared with the same period a year ago, according to provisional data from the Ministry of Agriculture. Cotton sowing is down 9.4%, while soybean planting has lagged by 51% during the period.

Monsoon rains hit the southern Indian state of Kerala nearly a week later than normal earlier this month. Progress was slowed further last week because of Cyclone Vayu that drew moisture from the Arabian Sea.

Monsoon rainfall was 43% lower than normal so far in June, but in some states, such as Maharashtra, the rainfall deficit was as high as 68%, data compiled by the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) showed.

In Maharashtra and the central state of Madhya Pradesh, key producers of soybean, cotton, sugar and pulses, rainfall will remain below average this week but could pick up from the week after, said a senior IMD official, who declined to be named.

“From the next week, the monsoon could gain momentum,” the official said.

Typically, the monsoon covers most parts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh by mid-June, but so far this year monsoon has not even fully covered the southern state of Karnataka, a producer of sugar and corn, IMD data showed.

Monsoons deliver about 70% of India’s annual rainfall and are the lifeblood of its $2.5 trillion economy, spurring farm output and boosting rural spending on items ranging from gold to cars, motorcycles and refrigerators.

“Rainfall delay is a cause of concern for oilseed farmers. If rainfall delays further, it could change sowing patterns and could hurt crop yields as well,” said B.V. Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA).

Farmers cannot use water from reservoirs as many have dried up in western India after the region received lower rainfall than normal in 2018, he said.

For the June to September monsoon season, India is likely to receive 96% of the average of rainfall received during the past 50 years, the IMD forecast last month.

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; editing by Christian Schmollinger

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