Monsoon Covering India in Record Time May Boost Rice, Sugar

Monsoon, which accounts for 70 percent of India’s annual rainfall, covered the entire country in a record time, accelerating plantings of crops from rice to soybeans and cotton.

Rains covered the whole of India yesterday, the earliest ever and ahead of the normal date of July 15, said D.S. Pai, head of the long-range forecasting division at the India Meteorological Department. Monsoon showers have been 48 percent above a 50-year average since they arrived on June 1, the forecaster said on its website.

The early arrival of rainfall has helped ease a drinking water shortage and relieved crops threatened by the worst drought in four decades in India’s western region. A bumper harvest may help Asia’s third-biggest economy curb food prices and revive economic growth from the lowest level in a decade. Agriculture accounts for about a fifth of the economy, while 55 percent of the farm land does not have access to irrigation.

“Early rainfall augurs well for all rainfed crops including soybean, cotton, sugar cane, rice, corn,” P. Chengal Reddy, secretary general of the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association, said by phone from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. “Early and more than normal rains will recharge the groundwater and help farmers who are dependent on irrigation.”

Spatial Distribution

Rainfall will be 98 percent of the 50-year average of 89 centimeters (35 inches) in the four months through September, the weather bureau said on June 14. It defines normal precipitation as 96 percent to 104 percent of the average received between 1951 and 2000. Showers in July, the wettest month of the season, will be 101 percent of the average and more than the 87 percent last year, it said.

A robust winter crop production and performance of the monsoon so far augur well for economic growth, the Reserve Bank of India said today, while keeping key interest rates unchanged.

“The spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall over the next three months will be crucial in determining the performance of agriculture,” the bank said.

The sowing of the soybean crop, the main oilseed sown in the monsoon season, has commenced in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh with the earlier-than-normal arrival of rains, Rajesh Agrawal, spokesman of the Soybeans Processors Association of India, said by phone from Indore. The state grows more than 50 percent of the nation’s crop.

Rain Dependence

“The entire planting will be completed in a week’s time, which has probably never happened in the past,” he said. “Normally, the rains arrive by June end and the sowing extends until middle or late July. This is a good beginning and will have good results if we have good follow up rains. The early rains will boost yields.”

More than 235 million farmers in India, the world’s second-largest producer of cotton, rice and sugar cane, depend on rain for irrigating crops. The monsoon reached the southern state of Kerala on June 1, two days ahead of the onset date forecast by the weather body.

“Early signs of a plentiful monsoon also suggest still elevated vegetable prices should pull back, further increasing the central bank’s room for manoeuvre,” Richard Iley, the chief economist for Asia at BNP Paribas SA, said in an e-mailed report. “Rains and the rupee will determine whether RBI will move at its policy review but rates should slowly fall by up to 100 basis points over the next year or so.”

Rupee Slump

Governor Duvvuri Subbarao kept the repurchase rate at 7.25 percent after a plunge in the rupee to a record low threatened to stoke inflation. The rupee’s fall of about 6 percent versus the dollar this quarter is the steepest in Asia and may fan import costs in a country with the second-highest consumer inflation in the Group of 20 nations. The wholesale-price index increased 4.7 percent in May from a year earlier, a 43-month low. At the same time, a separate consumer inflation gauge climbed 9.31 percent.

Rice has been planted in 794,000 hectares (1.96 million acres) as of June 14 while oilseeds have been sown in 157,000 hectares, the farm ministry said. Sugar cane was planted in 4.21 million hectares and cotton in 1.58 million hectares, it said.

Rainfall in August will be 96 percent of the average, compared with 101 percent last year, the bureau said on June 14. Northwest India, the main wheat, rice and sugar cane region may get 94 percent of average rainfall this year, while the central region, the biggest soybean grower, may see precipitation of as much as 98 percent of the average, the bureau said.