New Delhi: Sowing of rain-fed kharif crops has begun with the onset of south-west monsoon, the Union agriculture ministry said on Friday.

According to preliminary reports received by the ministry from different states, farmers have so far planted 7.1 million hectares with crops like rice, pulses, coarse cereals, oilseeds, sugarcane and cotton.

The seasonal area — or the total area where the crop is planted during the entire season — under kharif crops is 106.2 million hectares.

Although area planted so far is lower than the 7.7 million hectares sown by this time last year, sowing is expected to pick up as the monsoon progresses. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that this year’s June to September monsoon will be above normal, at 106% of the long-period average.

The monsoon is critical to the kharif crop as over half of India’s farmland lacks assured irrigation and the country receives 80% of its annual rainfall during these four months.

“We expect rapid progress (of monsoon) till central India. The onset was delayed by seven days, but by the time monsoon advances over central India, the delay will have reduced to a few days, and that way, it may reach north and northwest India in time," said D.S. Pai, head of long-range forecasting at the IMD.

While sub-par rains dented foodgrain production in the past two years, based on the forecast of a bountiful monsoon, the agriculture ministry has set a target of producing a record 270 million tonnes in 2016-17, 7% more than the 252.2 million tonnes estimated to have been produced in 2015-16.

Data released by the farm ministry shows that so far, cotton has been planted in 0.98 million hectares compared to 1.43 million hectares by this time last year. Sugarcane has been planted so far in 4.4 million hectares, higher than the area of 4.1 million hectares last year. While Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have reported higher cane planting, area sown so far is lower than normal in states like Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The area under rice, the main kharif crop, stands at 0.57 million hectares so far, compared to 0.64 million hectares by this time last year. The seasonal area under rice is 39.3 million hectares.

Similarly, the data shows that pulses have been sown so far in 0.15 million hectares compared to 0.23 million hectares by this time last year, while coarse cereals have been planted in 0.2 million hectares, lower than the 0.4 million hectares by this time last year.

As of Friday, monsoon has covered all of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, most parts of coastal Karnataka, some more parts of south interior Karnataka, some parts of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra Pradesh. In the next 48 hours, it is expected to cover the rest of Karnataka and more parts of Andhra Pradesh, and reach the Konkan region and Goa.