Area under paddy, one of the most water-intensive crops, had dropped 53.7% to 7.59 lakh hectares until Friday, compared with 16.4 lakh hectares as of June 21 last year. The planting of oilseeds dropped by an even sharper 84.9% until Friday, while that of cotton and sugarcane declined by 28.9% and 1.4%, respectively, from a year earlier. Similarly, sowing of pulses fell 30.5% from the year-ago figure. The country imports more than half its edible oil and one-fifth of its requirement of pulses annually and any drop in these commodities has the potential to stoke imported inflation.
Summer crops are usually sown with the arrival of monsoon rains in June and harvested from mid-September.
Since the monsoon's arrivals over the Kerala coast, from where it progresses to other parts of the country, was delayed by five days from the usual date of June 1 this year, sowing has been affected, said a senior scientist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. The country had also received a much higher quantum of rainfall until June 20 last year, which is why we see a wide gap in sowing between the same periods of last year and this year. Sowing is expected to pick up in the coming weeks as the IMD has forecast rainfall at 93% of the LPA for July, he added.
Monsoon rainfall so far this season has trailed the benchmark 50-year average by 39%, compared with a 54% excess rainfall over the long-period average (LPA) until June 19 last year, showed data from the IMD. Northwestern India the grain-bowl region that is forecast to witness the maximum shortfall in showers, at 15%, this year has seen a 46% drop in rainfall from the LPA so far.
Consequently, water storage levels across the country, which was 26% higher than the level a year before until June 12, significantly narrowed to just 0.54% as of June 19, data from the Central Water Commission showed. The IMD had forecast that monsoon rains this year would be 93% of the LPA, with a 33% probability of deficient monsoon rains and 70% chances of a recurrence of the El Nino effect, which had caused the worst drought in 37 years in 2009. The IMD defines normal monsoon showers at 96-104% of the LPA and deficient rainfall at below 90% of the LPA.
India, the worlds second-largest vegetable oils buyer, imports around half its annual requirement of cooking oils and one-fifth of pulse needs. Any fall in oilseed and pulse production would potentially drive up domestic prices.
The stakes riding on the monsoon are high as over 60% of the country's farmland is rain-fed. The June-September monsoon season, which brings about 70% of annual rains, is crucial for summer-sown crops such as paddy, cotton, sugarcane, pulses, cereals and oilseed, and also boosts groundwater reserves for winter planting. Food inflation, which was an annual average of 12.16% over the last five years, touched 12.76% in the last fiscal, compared with 9.89% a year earlier.