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New Delhi: India’s worst monsoon season in six years ended on Wednesday with a 14% rain deficit, impacting crop output in the rain-dependent kharif season even as last-minute precipitation because of a late withdrawal is likely to increase soil moisture content that is crucial for sowing winter crops.

There were a few late showers at the end of the June-September rainy season which, while not affecting foodgrain production during the kharif season, could boost crop output in the winter rabi season, according to the agriculture ministry.

The poor monsoon, the second in a row, has been a cause for worry as more than half the country’s farmland is rain-irrigated. Monsoon rain this year arrived five days late on 6 June after a bleak forecast by the government’s weather forecaster, the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

In June, IMD forecast that there will be a 12% deficit this monsoon, citing a strengthening El Niño, a weather phenomenon that results from the warming of Pacific Ocean regions and is associated with drier-than-normal conditions in India.

While June brought relief to farmers and policymakers with rainfall that was 16% more than normal, July and August, which see the bulk of the season’s rainfall, saw deficits of 16% and 22%, respectively.

The kharif crop output is likely to drop to 124 million tonnes (mt) in 2015, compared with 126.3 mt last year and 128.7 mt in 2013-14, according to the first advance estimate released by the agriculture ministry on 16 September.

“Uttar Pradesh suffered the most overall along with Haryana and Punjab, but much of the land is irrigated in these areas," said Laxman Singh Rathore, director general of IMD. “There will definitely be an impact on kharif crops and the cost of cultivation will be high for farmers, but a good start to the monsoon nullified the impact a little."

Some of the other states that suffered the worst rainfall deficits include Maharashtra, eastern Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, northern interior Karnataka and Telangana.

Cotton, pulses and oilseed crops are likely to be hit due to low rainfall.

Karnataka declared a drought in early September and sought central assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund to the tune of 3,050.7 crore. No other state has declared a drought as yet, but a central team has been sent to assess the drought situation in Odisha.

According to Himanshu, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a Mint columnist, the back-to-back failure of monsoon makes it much more serious than it normally would be with a 14% deficit. “A big problem this year was that the most affected areas are rainfed and are areas with higher exposure to international trade. The impact of this year’s rainfall deficit could be worse than 2009," he said.

At the end of the season, 39% of the country’s area received deficient rainfall, 55% received normal rainfall and 6% received excess rainfall.

The country’s largest non-state forecaster, Skymet Weather Services Pvt. Ltd, had predicted that India would see normal rainfall this year.

Sayantan Bera contributed to this story.

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