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MUMBAI : Summer-sown crop planting in India has been lagging as the country received below-normal rainfall, the government said, raising concerns about food grain production in Asia's third biggest economy.

India is the world's biggest exporter of rice and top importer of edible oils. A drop in production could not only limit rice and cotton exports, but also boost imports of edible oils such as palm oil, sunflower oil and soyoil.

Indian farmers had planted 104.4 million hectares (25.8 million acres) with summer crops as of Aug. 20, down 1.6% from a year earlier, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare said in a statement.

Farmers typically start planting summer-sown crops on June 1, when monsoon rains usually reach India. Planting then continues until early August.

"Area is down marginally but (the) real concern is crop yields since rainfall distribution was erratic. Some areas are witnessing a prolonged dry spell while (a) few pockets were flooded," said Nitin Kalantri, a trader based in Latur in the western state of Maharashtra.

India has received 9% below-average monsoon rains since June 1, although in some regions the deficit is as high as 58%.

The area planted with cotton was at 11.7 million hectares (28.9 million acres) until last week, down 8.3% from a year ago, the ministry said, as top-growing Gujarat state received 47% lower rainfall than normal.

Planting of rice, the key summer crop, stood at 37.4 million hectares (92.4 million acres), marginally down from last year's 37.8 million hectares (93.4 million acres) in the previous year, the ministry said.

The state-run India Meteorological Department has forecast the country will receive normal monsoon rains in 2021, but private weather forecasting agency Skymet on Monday said the country could receive below-normal rainfall during the season.

New Delhi defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 88 cm (35 inches) for the entire four-month season. 

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