Crop sowing lags in India, raising concerns over food grain output

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A laborer throws rice saplings as others plant them in another field in Karjat, India, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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MUMBAI, July 16 (Reuters) - Summer-sown crop planting in India has been lagging as central and northern parts of the country received scant rainfall, the government said on Friday, raising concerns about food grain production and inflation in Asia's third biggest economy.

India is the world's biggest exporter of rice and top importer of edible oils. A drop in production could not only limit rice exports, but also boost imports of edible oils such as palm oil, sunflower oil and soyoil.

Indian farmers had planted 61.19 million hectares with summer crops as of July 16, down 11.6% from a year earlier, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare said in a statement.

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Farmers typically start planting summer-sown crops on June 1, when monsoon rains usually reach India. Planting then continues until early August.

Planting of rice, the key summer crop, stood at 16.19 million hectares versus 17.44 million hectares in the previous year, the ministry said.

The area planted with cotton was at 9.84 million hectares versus 11.3 million hectares the previous year.

Planting of overall oilseeds, including soybean - the main summer oilseed crop - was at 12.9 million hectares, down from 14.9 million hectares the previous year.

Soybean sowing was at 9.3 million hectares against 10.6 million hectares last year.

Sugarcane planting in the world's second biggest sugar producer was almost unchanged at 5.3 million hectares.

Farmers planted protein-rich pulses on 7 million hectares against 8 million hectares in the previous year.

India's rainfall has been 7% below average since June 1, when the four-month rainy season began.

"Monsoon rainfall distribution is uneven, and this could lead to lower food grain production unless rainfall picks up in the next two weeks," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm, who declined to be named.

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Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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