A farmer prepares a paddy field in Kangan, northeast of Srinagar, June 12 2019. Picture: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP
A farmer prepares a paddy field in Kangan, northeast of Srinagar, June 12 2019. Picture: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP

Mumbai — Planting of summer-sown crops in India such as soya beans, cotton, rice and maize has been delayed by at least two weeks because of the slow progress of monsoon rains in central and western parts of the country, raising concerns over lower production.

Lower production of soya beans could force India to raise imports of edible oils such as palm oil and soya oil, while a drop in cotton output could limit the world’s biggest fibre producer’s exports. Lower rice output could hit shipments from the world’s biggest exporter.

“Monsoon rainfall is delayed. Farmers could not start sowing on  time,” said Atul Ganatra, president of the Cotton Association of India.

Farmers have so far planted summer-sown crops on 8.22-million hectares, down 9% compared with the same period a year ago, according to provisional data from the agriculture ministry. Cotton sowing is down 9.4%, while soya bean planting has lagged by 51% during the period.

Monsoon rains hit the southern Indian state of Kerala nearly a week later than normal earlier in June. Progress was slowed further last week because of Cyclone Vayu that drew moisture from the Arabian Sea.

Monsoon rainfall was 43% lower than normal so far in June, but in some states, such as Maharashtra, the rainfall deficit was as high as 68%, data compiled by the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) showed.

In Maharashtra and the central state of Madhya Pradesh, key producers of soya beans, cotton, sugar and pulses, rainfall will remain below average this week but could pick up from the week after, said a senior IMD official, who declined to be named.

“From the next week, the monsoon could gain momentum,” the official said.

Typically, the monsoon covers most parts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh by mid-June, but so far in 2019 the  monsoon has not even fully covered the southern state of Karnataka, a producer of sugar and maize, IMD data showed.

Monsoons deliver about 70% of India’s annual rainfall and are the lifeblood of its $2.5-trillion economy, spurring farm output and boosting rural spending on items ranging from gold to cars, motorcycles and refrigerators.

“Rainfall delay is a cause of concern for oilseed farmers. If rainfall delays further, it could change sowing patterns and could hurt crop yields as well,” said BV Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India.

Farmers cannot use water from reservoirs as many have dried up in western India after the region received lower rainfall than normal in 2018, he said.

For the June to September monsoon season, India is likely to receive 96% of the average of rainfall received during the past 50 years, the IMD forecast in May.