Monsoon rain cheer: Downpour narrows deficit to 24%

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 26 2014, 16:57pm hrs
MonsoonRainfall in the last one week has been 24% higher than the normal shower, helping bridge the initial deficit.
As monsoon showers lashed central and north-western India, rainfall deficit narrowed to 24% of the benchmark average until Thursday from 35% a week before, driving up sowing while water reserve levels crossed the normal 10-year average after two weeks, latest official data showed. However, experts said the geographical spread of rains over the next two months is crucial to any correct assessment of farm production this kharif season.

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Importantly, rainfall in the last one week has been 24% higher than the normal shower, helping bridge the initial deficit this season but enhancing risks of floods in some areas, the IMD said on Thursday. Consequently, areas under summer crops rose to 53.31 million hectares until Friday, still down 27% from a year before but better than a 45% drop until last week. Water reserve levels, too, improved to 54.50 billion cubic metres, crossing the 10-year average of 52.54 billion cubic metres for the first time since July 10, but are still down by 31% from a year earlier.

Ashok Gulati, former CACP chairman, told FE: Recent rains may not wipe out the deficiency in overall rainfall but there will be a boost to sowing of oilseeds, soyabean and cotton. We need to watch out the spread of rains over the next two months for assessing the impact on kharif crops.

As many as 16 people have already died and lakhs of hectares of crops have been damaged in 18 districts of Madhya Pradesh, the largest soyabean producing state. Heavy downpours in the state are expected for the next two days as well. In Chhattisgarh, the flood situation has improved a bit but crops have been damaged there, too.

Heavy rains drenched the central Indian regions of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, where oilseeds, pulses and cotton are planted on large tracts of land, over the last one week, although only 41% of the country has received normal rainfall so far.

Although the agriculture ministry last week said kharif production could be "far below" than a year before, this week it set an ambitious target of grain production for the entire crop year through June 2014 at 261 million tonne, just 3.4 million tonne lower than the record harvest in 2013-14. Of the record grain output in 2013-14, kharif crops accounted for 49%, or 129.37 million tonne. This means India has to scale up rabi production significantly to make up for the kharif losses and achieve the targets.

Similarly, the government is targeting slightly higher output of oilseeds in 2014-15 at 33 million tonne, compared with 32.41 million tonne a year before.

While the planting of paddy has been down 13% so far from a year before, what concerns the government is the 43% drop in coarse cereal areas and 30% fall in oilseed planting. Even pulse planting has dropped by 39% so far from a year earlier. However, sowing has improved significantly, as areas under these crops were down by up to 70% until a week ago.