Strong monsoon isn't always good news for farmers
Is heavy rainfall good news?
India received the heaviest monsoon rain in 25 years. While rain usually cheers up the agricultural heartland, the erratic monsoon left many crops damaged.
Importance of Monsoon
India is the world's largest producer of sugar, cotton and pulses. The country is also the second-biggest producer of wheat and rice. Monsoon season which delivers about 70% of the country's annual rainfall, determines how successful cultivation would be. The monsoon is also critical for the wider economy. Farming makes up about 15% of the $2.5 trillion economies and employs more than half of the country's 1.3 billion people. While crops in the ground have been damaged by the monsoon, the rains have replenished reservoirs and groundwater reserves, which augurs well for India's rural economy in 2020.
Why this monsoon was different?
A prolonged dry spell resulted in significantly below-average rainfall at the start of the season, prompting farmers to delay the sowing of summer crops and leaving others wilting. By the end of July, rainfall was so heavy that rivers flooded and crops were damaged. The combination of a prolonged dry spell followed by heavy rainfall increased pest infestation and disease, forcing farmers to spend more on pesticides.
Many crops were affected?
Heavy rains damaged the major crops- soybean, rice, cotton, sugarcane, pulses and vegetables. India's main summer-sown oilseed, Soybean, was particularly damaged as the state of Madhya Pradesh received rainfall 44% above average. Maharashtra and Karnataka, the second- and third-biggest producers of sugarcane in India were flooded in the first week of August. Hence, the country is likely to receive the lowest sugar output in three years. Maturing cotton in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, the country's top producers, was damaged by heavy rains in September. Rice was affected by excessive rains in southern and western India, as well as low rainfall in the top producing eastern state of West Bengal. Vegetables such as tomatoes and onions went rotten due to heavy rainfall in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
Is farm trade affected?
Given the damage to the soybean crop, the world's biggest importer of edible oils could be forced to increase imports of palm oil, soyoil and sunflower oil in 2019/20 marketing year starting from Nov. 1. Cotton supplies from new season crops are likely to be delayed by two to three weeks, in turn, delaying exports. Imports of pulses, especially pigeon peas, green and black gram, are likely to rise due to lower production. India, the world's biggest onion exporter, has banned overseas sales, forcing prices in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to double.
The future of winter-sown crops
Above-average rainfall in monsoon has brightened the scope for winter-sown crops such as wheat, rapeseed and chickpeas. For many years, millions of farmers have been unable to plant winter crops because weak rainfall had reduced moisture levels in the ground. But following the heavy rains in September, moisture levels are adequate, and most reservoir levels are well-above their 10-year averages. India could harvest a record wheat crop in 2020 and production from winter-sown rice is expected to jump, analysts said. But that could also create excess rice and wheat supplies at a time when India has been struggling to encourage exports because local prices are higher than global benchmarks.