New Delhi: Excess rainfall till the third week of June has boosted sowing of kharif crops with a significant increase in the area under rain-fed crops such as coarse grains, oilseeds, pulses and cotton, the farm ministry said on Friday. Till now, sowing has been completed in 44.5 million hectare (ha), nearly 62% higher than the area sown by this time last year.

The spike in this year’s sowing is partly due to the fact that last year saw a dry June and sowing picked up pace only after mid-July. Till 25 June, monsoon showers were in excess to the tune of 28% compared with the long-period average.

However, the southwest monsoon has considerably weakened in the past two weeks. In the two weeks between 25 June and 1 July and 2 July to 9 July, the rainfall deficit was 14% and 51%, respectively. The June-November kharif crop season is critically dependent on the progress and spread of the southwest monsoon as over half of the farm land in India lacks assured irrigation.

Although sowing has been completed in over 44.5 million ha, it is still less than half (42%) of the normal sowing area of 105 million ha. The progress of sowing will, therefore, depend on showers during July and August, which, the government forecaster said, will be deficient. Signs of distress are already emerging in states like Maharashtra, where crops like soybean and cotton may wither in the fields if it does not rain in the next 10 days. The state has not seen any rainfall in the past two weeks.

For the entire monsoon season between June and September, the Indian Meteorological Department has predicted a 12% deficit, stoking fears of crop-loss and inflation. Data released by the agriculture ministry show that rice, the main kharif crop, has been planted so far in 8.9 million ha, marginally lower than the 9.4 million ha sown by this time last year.

But the sowing of pulses, oilseeds, coarse grains and cotton has surpassed last year’s numbers. Pulses have been sown in 3.3 million ha so far, compared to 2.3 million ha sown by this time last year. The high acreage under pulses could be on account of farmers taking a signal from the soaring prices in the market.

Similarly, oilseeds have been sown in 10.1 million ha, nearly five times the area sown by this time last year. The area under coarse cereals is 8.2 million ha, more than double the 3.8 million ha sown by this time last year. The area under cotton has also shot up, from 4.5 million ha last year to 8.8 million ha this year.

“The rainfall situation is uncertain as of now and a clearer picture will emerge only after 15 July, but in line with IMD’s forecast the government should be prepared to handle an emergency," said Ramesh Chand, director of National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, Delhi. “However, despite the deficit monsoon last year and unseasonal rains this year damaging the winter harvest, foodgrain production did not dip substantially. This shows increased resilience of Indian agriculture (to weather woes) at an aggregate level, but with pockets of distress."

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