A sluggish monsoon — 21 per cent deficient in the week ending June 23 — has stalled mid-way and is unlikely to progress into India's grain bowl of Punjab, Haryana and UP before July 4, as farm ministry officials look on nervously.
Overall, between June 1 and now, falls have been up to 13 per cent less, a weather official estimated.
The patchy rains have prompted the farm ministry to keep crop-rescue plans ready, with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) saying if rains don't return to normal around July 5, crops in north India could suffer.
The UPA government is hedging on adequate rains to offset losses from last year's drought — the worst in three decades — and also to curb food inflation of nearly 17 per cent.
Abnormal delay in rains for north India will start affecting mainly sugar and paddy crops, as UP is India's largest sugar-producing state and together with Punjab, Haryana and Bihar, accounts for bulk of rice output.
A weather review meeting has been called for July 5 by the top farm expert body.
"Any delay beyond July 4 will certainly affect both crop output and cost of production for farmers," IARI scientist JPS Dabbas told Hindustan Times.
"(There is) a hiatus in the further advance of southwest monsoon since June 19," AB Mazumdar, the Met department's deputy director-general, said in a report.
This means the rain-bearing system has not progressed into newer areas, especially the
Summer rains are critical for India, Asia's third biggest economy, for two reasons: two-thirds of Indians depend on farm income and 60 per cent of farmed areas depend on rains for irrigation.
"We always keep the possibility of adverse weather in mind. In the annual National Kharif Conference for 2010, states were told to prepare for every type of rainfall situation," a farm ministry official said.
Typically, monsoon must cover the entire country by mid-July for robust crops, which need to be uniformly irrigated at every stage.
According to Met forecast, monsoon will be normal at 102 per cent of the 50-year average. Rainfall between 96 and 104 per cent is considered normal.