Revived monsoon rains in India accelerated the planting of rice, oilseeds and cotton last week, increasing the prospects of a strong harvest that should help calm soaring food prices.
The area under rice cultivation jumped 56 per cent to 7.2 million hectares on July 9 while cotton planting rose by half, during the week, compared with the previous week, as monsoon rains were 2 per cent above normal, ending a two-week dry spell since June 18, agriculture ministry data showed on Monday.
Monsoon rains have been slightly below normal in the past two to three days but traders said heavy rainfall in the previous week had softened the soil, helping farmers plant crops.
Rainfall was 16 percent below average in June, then the shortfall narrowed to 10 per cent last week.
While total rainfall since June 1 is now 13 per cent below normal, key crop areas such as rice-growing Punjab and Haryana in the north and soybean-growing Madhya Pradesh in central India have received adequate rains.
"What's encouraging is that rainfall is uniformly distributed across the country rather than concentrated in specific areas, which bodes well for crop sowing," Citigroup said in a report on Monday.
Good rainfall leading to higher farm output should help Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government tame high inflation that has triggered widespread street protests including a nationwide general strike. Weather officials expect adequate rain in the coming days.
"There will be good rainfall in the next 2-3 days over the cane-growing areas of north India. Rice sowing is at its peak," LS Rathore, head of the agricultural meteorology division at the weather office, told Reuters.
Rainfall in soybean-growing central regions may decline this week, weather officials said. Traders said soybean sowing would continue as widespread rain last week had softened the soil.
On Friday, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said the revival in monsoon rains would result in strong farm output, which was badly hit by last year's driest season in 37 years. The government is also considering levying an import tax on sugar, but is waiting to see how the June-September monsoon rains pan out.
Last year's drought helped turn India into a large sugar importer and this was a key factor that drove New York raw sugar futures to the highest in nearly three decades.