July lull in rains may hurt crops

July lull in rains may hurt crops
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First Published: Sat, Jun 30 2007. 12 14 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Jun 30 2007. 12 14 AM IST
India could get a little less rain during the monsoon than was initially estimated.
But things could be made worse by lower-than-usual rainfall in the country’s bread basket Punjab and Haryana, and a break in rainfall in July that could, according to a leading agricultural scientist, spoil the crop.
On Friday, the Indian meteorological department (IMD) marginally scaled down its initial rainfall projections for the season from 95% of the long-period average (LPA) to 93%.
LPA is the average volume of rain the country has received every year between 1941 and 1990, which works out to 89cm.
July is the most important monsoon month in India and the country receives one-third of its summer monsoon rainfall in this period. However, Madhavan Rajeevan, director of IMD’s National Climate Centre in Pune, said that the second half of July could see a break in the normal progress of the monsoon.
“A break in rainfall during July could actually spoil the crop, even if there has been good rainfall over the previous fortnight,” agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said, adding that the distribution pattern of rainfall was far more important than the quantity of rainfall.
Despite this caveat, Rajeevan expects the monsoon’s good showing in June to carry into July.
IMD has forecast that the country will receive 95% of July’s LPA of 29.3cm.
“The rain in June has been 107% of the average and we expect it (the good performance) to continue into the first two weeks of July,” said Rajeevan. Regionally, North-West India is likely to see lower rainfall.
North-West India includes the prosperous agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana and IMD has forecast that this region will receive rainfall that is 90% of LPA this monsoon. Rajeevan, however, said this is not a cause for alarm.
In April, IMD had forecast that India would receive rainfall that is 95% of LPA this monsoon; this has been brought down by two percentage points because the agency now has new ocean-atmospheric data that became available at the end of May.
IMD’s update also puts the volume of rains as a proportion of LPA at 98% in the North-East, 96% in Central India and 94% over the Southern Peninsula.
“I don’t think it (2% shortfall) makes a difference to our growth forecasts for the year,” said Samiran Chakraborthy, chief economist, ICICI Bank Ltd.
The summer monsoon, which accounts for more than 80% of India’s annual rainfall and is vital to the country’s economy, has a direct bearing on the prospects of several food and cash crops, including rice, maize, oilseeds and cotton. The rains signal the start of the kharif season. Foodgrain production in the 2006-07 kharif season aggregated 107.17 million tonnes.
Buoyed by encouraging rains in June, farmers have already started sowing oilseed crops, such as groundnut and soybean. The June-September rains have covered almost 90% of India, including West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.
“The sowing has started and is picking up. In one week or so, sowing would have started everywhere,” said B.V. Mehta, director of the Solvent Extractors Association of India.
Despite concerns over the July rainfall break, IMD’s forecast is good news for India’s 234 million farmers whose crops suffered due to below-normal rains in two of the past five years, pushing up prices of food staples.
“Sowing has begun in most states and normal rains in July should boost crop prospects,” said Harish Galipelli, head of research at Karvy Comtrade Ltd, a commodities trading company. “Inflation has already moderated and a good harvest will help bring down prices further,” he added.
India’s inflation rate slowed to a 13-month low of 4.03% in the week to 16 June, according to data released by the government on Friday.
COUNTING RAINDROPS (Graphic)
(Sanjiv Shankaran, Bloomberg and Reuters also contributed to this story.)
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First Published: Sat, Jun 30 2007. 12 14 AM IST