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Monsoon winds up on positive note, crops gain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s monsoon rains were 37 percent below normal in the week to Sept. 29, the weather office said on Thursday, suggesting the rainy season is finally drawing to a close after its persistence raised concerns of crop damage.

An ailing woman is carried on top of a cooking pot through flood waters after heavy monsoon rains in the northern Indian city of Vrindavan September 25, 2010. REUTERS/K. K. Arora

In the previous week, rains were 44 percent above average, with particularly heavy rains over cane growing areas of north India triggering floods in Uttar Pradesh that left millions homeless.

“The monsoon has withdrawn from most parts of northwest India,” said B.P. Yadav, director and spokesman for the India Meteorological Department.

(For Slideshow: Monsoon in India, click here)

India, one of the world’s top producers and consumers of sugar, rice, cotton and edible oils, relies on the June to September monsoon rains for its agriculture sector, but extended rains can damage crops and create pest problems.

Relatively dry weather in recent days would help crops, said L.S. Rathore, head of the agricultural meteorology division of the weather office.

“Weather conditions are perfectly fine for maturity of summer crops. Crops now need dry and warm conditions for final maturity,” Rathore said.

The rains since the start of the season to Sept. 29 were 2 percent above average, the weather office said, making this year’s monsoon normal.

Last year was the driest season since 1972 with a rainfall deficit of 22 percent, hurting harvests and pushing India onto global markets to meet its consumption needs.

Last year’s monsoon failure helped New York raw sugar futures surge to the highest in 29 years in February, while rising food prices in India triggered street protests across the country.

This year’s monsoon began on a weak note as two tropical cyclones hindered its progress, but rainfall gathered momentum in July, the key crop-planting month, boosting crop prospects.

India’s summer-sown grain output is expected to rise 10 percent, and cane output is likely to expand 17 percent, the government said this month.

But food inflation continued to quicken in mid-September as heavy rains disrupted supplies, fuelling expectations for more increases in the cost of borrowing later this year.

In the week to Sept. 29, cane-growing western parts of Uttar Pradesh had rains 85 percent below normal, the India Meteorological Department said on its website.

In the cotton and rice producing Punjab, rains were 64 percent below average in the past week.

Rains in the rubber growing southern state of Kerala, however, were 40 percent above normal.

Monsoon rains started withdrawing from grain-producing areas of northwest India, the National Climate Centre’s director told Reuters on Sept. 27, easing concerns prolonged rains would damage crops.

Editing by Himangshu Watts and Michael Urquhart