India's summer crop planting lags as monsoon rains remain patchy

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian farmers have planted summer-sown crops on 68.9 million hectares, down 6.3% year on year, agriculture ministry data showed on Friday, marginally narrowing the sowing gap estimate from the previous week.

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

Summer rains are crucial as nearly half of India’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 18.5 million hectares on Friday, against 19.8 million hectares at the same time last year, the ministry said. Corn planting was at 6.3 million hectares, almost unchanged from the same period last year.

The area planted with cotton was at 10.9 million hectares, up from 10.2 million hectares a year ago.

Sowing of soybeans, the main summer oilseed crop, was at 9.7 million hectares, compared with 10.1 million hectares at the same time in 2018.

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

India’s monsoon rains were 35% below average in the week ending on Wednesday, with little rainfall over the central, western and northern parts of the country.

Overall, India has received 16% less rain than average since the monsoon season began on June 1.

Monsoon typically brings rainfall between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 89 cm (35 inches) during the four-month season, according to India’s weather office.

Water levels in India’s main reservoirs were at 25% of their storage capacity, against 40% at the same time last year, the latest government data shows. The average for the past 10 years is 35%.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Kirsten Donovan