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Patchy rainfall in many parts of the country has hit the planting of kharif or crops sown in summer, with the southwest monsoon showing a seasonal deficit of more than 5% for the first time this year on 10 July. However, forecasters said the monsoon should revive soon.

Total acreage of kharif crops stood at 49 million hectares, about 11% less than the 55 million hectares sown during the corresponding period last year, according to agriculture ministry data.

The monsoon was deficient by 7% between 1 June and 10 July, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Rain was plentiful from the first week of June, but there was a bleak spell around 19 June because of unfavourable weather patterns.

The monsoon is critical for Asia’s third-largest economy, as nearly 60% of the country’s net sown area is not irrigated and half of the country’s population depends on a farm-derived income. The rain also replenishes more than 100 nationally important reservoirs, critical for drinking, power supply, and irrigation.

Millions of farmers depend on the rain for a range of summer crops such as rice, oilseeds, pulses, millets, sugarcane, and cotton.

Sowing of kharif crops had picked up sharply, exceeding normal levels in June 2020, driven by robust showers during the 2020 kharif season.

As on 10 July 2021, the area under rice, a key driver of farm incomes, stood at 11 million hectare compared to a normal area of 11.6 million hectare during the corresponding period. Acreage of total coarse cereals, which includes millets such as jowar, has been estimated to be 7.3 million hectare so far compared to a normal of 8.7 million hectare, the ministry’s data showed.

Farmers have sown oilseeds in about 11.2 million hectare over a normal area of 10.1 million hectare for this time of the year, which is usually the average acreage of the last five years.

On 25 June, the total sown area was 21% lower than the area cultivated in the same period a year ago.

The rains turned deficient from 21 June, IMD data shows. The week ending 30 June, rainfall for the whole country was 30.2% below the “long-period average", which is considered the normal level.

IMD has forecast normal rainfall for July, saying that the monsoon should pick up by the middle of the month. “Monthly rainfall for July 2021 over the country as a whole is most likely to be normal (94 to 106 % of the long period average)," the latest IMD bulletin said.

Meteorological subdivisions such as east Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, east Rajasthan, west Rajasthan, parts of Gujarat, Saurashtra, Kutch, Vidarbha, central Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, coastal Karnataka, and south interior Karnataka received lower than average precipitation, the data showed.

“July rainfall is most critical during the four-month kharif season. In areas there is no irrigation, sowing will be impacted. This is what the data show," said Jeet Singh Sandhu, vice-chancellor of the SKN Agricultural University, Jaipur. Till 9 July, the actual cumulative monsoon rainfall in the country as a whole stood at 223mm against a normal of 234.5mm between 1 June and 9 July.

Most kharif crops have to be sown by 15-20 July. Lower rainfall does not just hamper sowing, but also has the potential to curb yields or productivity of crops.

Sowing was less than normal in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab because of erratic rain or little rain during the monsoon so far, an agriculture ministry official said.

The country is hoping for a robust farm output to cushion the economic impacts of the coronavirus infections. In 2020-21, when India faced a recession because of the pandemic, agriculture was the only sector to post positive growth of about 3.1%. This helped keep the rural economy chugging.

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