Monsoon — the main source of irrigation for the nation’s 235 million farmers, is 11 per cent below average this season, delaying early sowing of soybean and rice in the biggest growing regions.
The nation received 97.4 millimeters of rain from June 1 to June 23, less than the 109.6 millimeter average deemed normal for the period, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on its website. Last week, falls were 21 per cent below normal at 32.8 millimeters, it said.
PM Manmohan Singh is counting on normal rains to increase production of staples including rice, sugar, lentils and oilseeds after last year’s drought damaged crops and pushed up food costs. Rising prices are a concern the central bank will have to weigh against the risks to growth from the European debt crisis, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in an interview in Washington yesterday.
“We were hoping for an early sowing campaign this year and are still waiting for rains,” Rajesh Agrawal, a coordinator for the Soybean Processors’ Association of India, the country’s top trade body for oilseed crushers, said today. Still, “there’s no reason for panic yet as we are in the early part of the monsoon season.”
Sugar prices in India — the biggest consumer — rose for the first time in 12 sessions on speculation that a delay in monsoon’s advance to Uttar Pradesh, the largest cane-grower, may damage the crop. Immediate-delivery rates in Mumbai, the country’s largest wholesale market for the commodity, increased 1.4 per cent to Rs 2,560 a quintal.
India overtook China as the biggest buyer of palm oil last year, and may import a record nine million tonnes in the year to October 31, according to Dorab Mistry, a director at Godrej, one of the biggest vegetable oil importers. India also became the world’s largest sugar importer after last year’s monsoon was the weakest in more than three decades.
According to the agriculture ministry, sowing of monsoon crops is lagging behind last year’s levels after two tropical cyclones slowed the progress of rain-carrying winds.
Rice was planted across 1.1 million hectares, compared to 1.17 million hectares a year ago, while cotton was sown across 1.48 million hectares, compared to 1.76 million hectares, the ministry said on June 18. Oilseeds were planted in 1,34,900 hectares, down from 2,71,000 hectares a year earlier.
Northwest India, the nation’s main cane, cotton and rice- growing region, got seven per cent less than normal rain from June 1 to 23, while central India, which includes the top soybean- producing areas, received 18 per cent less showers, the weather bureau’s data showed.
Rains were 16 per cent above normal in the southern peninsula, the main coffee and rubber region, and 21 per cent below average in the northeastern states, the main tea areas, the bureau said.
Northeast and central regions may get rains in the next 24 hours with the formation of a low pressure weather system over the North Bay of Bengal, Medha Kole, a director at the weather bureau’s office in Pune, said.
Falls this year may be 98 per cent of the 50-year average, the weather office said in April. The bureau, which failed to predict last year’s drought, deems normal rains to be between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of the long-term average. The office is scheduled to issue its forecast for July, August and September tomorrow in New Delhi.