Monsoon dips again, cane crop may fall 20%

Monsoon dips again, cane crop may fall 20%

New Delhi: India’s monsoon rains fell sharply last week, widening a seasonal deficit that may cut cane output by 20%, but reservoirs filled rapidly and boosted prospects of winter irrigation and power generation.

Rainfall in the week to 16 September was 41% below average as the weather dried up after the week that the saw the heaviest showers of the season, data from the India Meteorological Department showed on Thursday.

The total rainfall deficit since the season began on 1 June widened to 21% from 20% on 9 September.

Deficient and uneven monsoon rains, so far the worst since 1972, have hit the cane crop, and the harvest may drop 20% from last year, a senior weather official said.

India’s cane output would have fallen 30% if rains had not revived a month ago, said L.S. Rathore, head of the India Meteorological Department’s Agromet division, which issues weather advisories for farmers.

September rainfall is important both to improve soil moisture for the wheat and rapeseed crops that will be sown after a month and to increase the water level in reservoirs, but heavy showers at this time of the year can hit cane harvesting.

The joint managing director of Bajaj Hindusthan, Kushagra Bajaj, told an Indian newspaper that India may import at least 6.5 million tonnes of sugar in 2009/10, higher than trade forecasts of 4.5 million tonnes.

Food Secretary Alka Sirohi said India’s sugar stocks at the start of the new season in October would be 4 million tonnes, including imports.

Ajit Tyagi, head of the weather office, said monsoon rains were likely to start receding in later September, about 25 days later than normal.

“We expect the monsoon withdrawal to happen after September 25. Conditions still not conducive for the withdrawal of monsoon," Tyagi told Reuters.

While the extended monsoon season could hurt cane harvesting, water levels in reservoirs would gain.

The water level in India’s main reservoirs increased to 57% of capacity on Thursday from 51% a week ago, filling up faster than average, government data showed.

Over the past 10 years, the level has risen an average of 2 percentage points to 64 percent of capacity at this time of the year, the data showed.

The water level was also lower than last year, when the 81 main reservoirs, which help generate hydropower and irrigate winter crops, were at 69% of capacity.