By Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian farmers have planted 36.1 million hectares (89.2 million acres) with rice, up 4.3% on the same period last year, farm ministry data showed on Friday, as ample monsoon rains in July and higher prices helped boost acreage.
Higher rice planting in India, the world’s second biggest producer of the grain, could alleviate concerns about supplies of the staple.
Last month, New Delhi ordered a halt to its largest rice export category in a move that will roughly halve shipments by the world’s largest exporter of the grain.
Millions of farmers start planting rice, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugarcane and peanuts, among other crops, from June 1, when monsoon rains typically begin lashing India. The monsoon is vital as nearly half of India’s farmland lacks irrigation.
For June and July together, India’s monsoon rains were 5% above average, falling 10% below normal in June but rebounding to 13% above average in July.
Lower rainfall in June, especially in some southern, eastern and central states, held back summer crop planting, even though the monsoon advanced to cover the entire country almost a week earlier than normal.
But summer rains turned patchy again this month, with the monsoon nearly 40% below average in the first 17 days of August. The weather office defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 87 cm (35 inches) for the four-month season.
Scant rainfall is likely to persist across large areas, indicating that India is heading for its driest August in more than a century.
Farmers had planted 18.6 million hectares with oilseeds, including soybeans, by Friday, against 18.9 million hectares a year earlier.
Corn was planted on 8.1 million hectares, up from 7.9 million hectares a year earlier. The cotton area was also marginally smaller at 12.2 million hectares.
The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare keeps updating the provisional sowing figures as it gathers more information from the state governments.
The planting figures are also subject to revision depending on progress of the June-September monsoon season.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Conor Humphries)