New Delhi: India’s monsoon delivered above-average rains last week for the first time this season but the worst dry patch in more than 80 years has already hit rice and sugarcane crops.
It has also depleted India’s reservoirs, choking hydropower supply and boosting fuel demand as farms, homes and businesses used standby generators in June, the peak summer month.
Farm commissioner, N B Singh said sugarcane cultivation may fall 2.4%. This may trigger even bigger imports next year by India, which is already a big buyer and a key factor behind the surge in global sugar prices this year.
But Singh said cotton cultivation was higher this year, and if the monsoon rainfall was adequate in coming weeks, he did not expect a loss in output of crops other than rice.
“Prospects are not as bad as expected earlier,” he told reporters after the weather office made a rosy forecast.
Weak June rainfall has reduced the water level in India’s main reservoirs by more than half, limiting the prospects of irrigating winter-sown wheat and rapeseed crops, and reducing hydropower supply by 10%, government officials said.
While hydropower accounts for a quarter of India’s power generation, power supply has been further depleted by a severe shortage of coal in the country.
The shortage has boosted the use of standby power generation using liquid fuel, which helped raise India’s June domestic oil product sales by 14%.
Officials said they expected reservoirs to fill up as rainfall has improved.
The weather office forecast widespread rains in the next five days in most regions of India.
In the week to 15 July, the key soybean-producing regions in central India as well as sugarcane, cotton and groundnut producing areas in western India received normal or excessive rains, data from the weather office showed.
Rainfall in the week was 6% more than the long-term average. For the 1 June - 15 July period it was 27% below normal, improving from a deficit of 36% up to 8 July.
Rains were inadequate in Uttar Pradesh, the top sugarcane producing state. Haryana and Punjab, where farmers have stepped up sowing of premium rice grades that need less water, also received meagre rain, but the states have good irrigation.
Farm minister Sharad Pawar said crop sowing had accelerated.
“There has been substantial improvement in planting as rains have improved in the last one week,” he said.
The weak start to the vital June-September monsoon rains had stoked fears of crop failure, encouraging the government to ban wheat exports and prepare contingency plans.
While the monsoon rains have picked up, progress has been uneven, causing floods in some areas and drought in some districts which are not major crop producers.
In the coastal Orissa state floods and heavy rains have killed 23 people, hit cargo handling at the Paradeep port, and reduced rice sowing to a third of the target.
The weather office expects heavy rains in the next two days in the western Gujarat state, a key cotton and oilseeds producer, and many places in Madhya Pradesh where soybean is being planted.