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Heat wave kindles hopes of good Indian harvest

Heat wave kindles hopes of good Indian harvest

Pune: Summer temperature in India is set to remain above average, weather officials said, raising hopes of heavy rains at the start of the monsoon season that will help early sowing of rice, soybeans and lentils.

Early sowing and the subsequent early harvest insulates crops from weather risks such as weak rains towards the end of the June-September monsoon season that delivers 75-90% of the rainfall in most parts of India.

It also calms market sentiment as early harvests quickly boost supplies and quash inflationary expectations.

Last year, India saw its driest June in 83 years. The weak rains triggered a rise in inflation and India’s food price index rose about an annual 17% in March, 2010, leading to widespread protests and pressure on the federal government.

Rice output in India, the world’s second-biggest producer, fell 14% last year, while plunging cane output turned India into a big sugar importer, sending New York raw sugar futures to their highest in 29 years and encouraging the government to freeze exports of most farm commodities.

Most parts of India saw record-high temperature in March, usually a month of gradual transition from winter to summer, while a severe heat wave has gripped many states in April.

“Higher temperatures during pre-monsoon phase are likely to help initial monsoon rains,” said N. Chattopadhyay, director of agricultural meteorology division of India’s weather office.

If the weather remains warmer than normal, the country can expect heavy rainfall when the monsoon season begins, he said on the sidelines of the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum.

Normal rains

On Wednesday, Indian and Western weather experts said they expected normal monsoon rains in India this year, while a forecaster from Japan said rainfall may be weak.

M. Vellinga of the UK weather office said warm weather would continue. “We expect above normal temperature before monsoon and near normal temperature during monsoon,” he told Reuters.

Chattopadhyay said crop output would also depend on the distribution of rainfall, particularly in July, in the key crop areas such as soybean in central India and rice in other parts.

Last year, a drop in soybean output helped India topple China as the world’s biggest edible oils importer.

B.V. Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India, said good rain in the early phase was vital.

“Early monsoon has two crucial aspects. One is sentiment. In case of hoarding, stocks start getting offloaded and supplies suddenly improve,” he said.

“The second is planting. Early sowing means early harvest and even if there is early withdrawal of monsoon, crops are safe,” Mehta told Reuters.

The weather department said temperatures were expected to remain 2-4 degrees higher than normal in April and in the short term, heatwave conditions would continue over parts of central, east and northwest India.

Predicting monsoon rains, vital for India’s farm output and economic growth, remains a challenge for the country as its forecasting skills are inadequate, scientists and weather officials said on Tuesday.

A second straight poor summer monsoon is unlikely, India’s weather office chief said ahead of an official forecast for the rains that are crucial to the economy of the world’s second-most populous nation.


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