India's summer crop planting down 6.6% from last year, likely to pick up

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian farmers have planted 78.8 million hectares with summer-sown crops so far, farm ministry data showed on Friday, down 6.6% from last year mainly due to a weak start to the monsoon.

FILE PHOTO: Farmers plant saplings in a rice field on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

The outlook is better, however, as monsoon rains are expected to be plentiful in August and September.

Farmers generally start planting rice, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugarcane and peanuts, among other crops, from June 1, when monsoon rains typically arrive in India. Sowing usually lasts until July.

Monsoon rains play a crucial role in agriculture - which employs 50% of India’s workforce - as nearly half of the country’s farmland lacks irrigation.

The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare will keep updating the provisional sowing figures as it gathers more information from state governments. The planting figures are also subject to revision depending on progress of the June-September monsoon season.

Planting of rice, the key summer crop, was at 22.3 million hectares on Friday, against 25.5 million hectares at the same time last year, the ministry said. Corn planting was at 6.9 million hectares, unchanged from the same period last year.

The area planted with cotton totaled 11.5 million hectares, up from 11 million hectares a year earlier.

Sowing of soybeans, the main summer oilseed crop, stood at 10.7 million hectares, compared with 10.9 million hectares at the same time in 2018.

Other crop plantings, such as pulses and sugar cane, were down year on year.

Seasonal rains in the week that ended on Wednesday were above average for the second time since the start of the season on June 1.

The weather office said on Thursday that monsoon rains were expected to be 100% of a long-term average in August and September, making up for a shortfall in the first two months of the season that began in June. That would boost prospects for the agricultural sector.

India’s weather office defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 89 centimeters for the entire four-month season beginning June.

Water levels in India’s main reservoirs were at 33% of their storage capacity, against 45% at the same time last year, the latest government data shows. The average for the past 10 years is 42%.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Susan Fenton