Reuters | Thu Jul 22, 2010 | 8:52pm IST
Monsoon rains were 17 percent below normal in the week to July 21, improving from the previous week and boosting hopes of good harvests in one of the world’s biggest consumers of sugar, grain and vegetable oils. Total rainfall since June 1, the start of the four-month season, was 12 percent below average, but heavy, well-distributed showers in early July and the past week have softened and moistened the soil, helping planting of soybean, rice, cotton and corn. In the previous week, rainfall was 24 percent below normal, raising concerns of crop loss. "A 10-20 percent rainfall deficit does not ruin production prospects for summer crops as long as they are sown on time," said H.S. Gupta, director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, told Reuters. The government, struggling to control inflation since food prices started rising after last year’s severe drought damaged rice and cane crops, making India a large sugar importer and a key factor that hoisted New York raw sugar futures to the highest in 29 years.
"I am still optimistic about the success of this year’s monsoon and farm output," said Gupta, whose institute was the research hub during India’s green revolution in the sixties. Farm scientists say that even distribution of monsoon rains will help crops. "This year’s monsoon rains have been distributed well except in some part of eastern and western India," said A.K. Singh, deputy director general at the government-run Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Last week, India’s biggest cane-growing state of Uttar Pradesh received heavy rainfall, boosting prospects of a surge in sugar output in the world’s top consumer of the sweetener. India’s sugar output is expected to rise to 25 million tonnes in the new season that starts on Oct. 1, from 18.8 million tonnes in 2009/10. The International Sugar Organisation expects India, the world’s top producer after Brazil, to export 500,000 tonnes next year as local output continues to rise after sinking to 14.7 million tonnes last year.
The weather office said soybean-growing areas in central India received below-normal rainfall in the past week, but rainfall in the region is expected to increase. "The soybean crop is still in good condition, but needs more rains for healthy growth," said Rajesh Agrawal, coordinator of the Indore-based Soybean Processors Association of India. Monsoon is expected to intensify within 10 days and deliver normal rainfall in the June-September season despite a lean patch in mid-July, a top forecaster told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. The country’s soybean area was 6.1 million hectares until last week, up 1.7 percent from 6.0 million hectares in the year-ago period, said farm ministry’s latest update. Traders said the sowing of soybean was almost over in Madhya Pradesh, the biggest growing state in central India, but was on at adjoining western Rajasthan state where the seasonal rains were insufficient.