India's monsoon rains forecast to be average in August, September

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FILE PHOTO: A man rows his boat in the tributary waters of Vembanad Lake against the backdrop of pre-monsoon clouds on the outskirts of Kochi

By Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India is likely to receive an average amount of rainfall in August and September, the state-run weather office said on Monday, raising expectations of higher crop yields in Asia's third-biggest economy, which relies heavily on the vast farm sector.

"As per most parameters, we expect monsoon rains to be normal in August and September this year," Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told a news conference.

The IMD defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 88 cms (34 inches) for the four-month season beginning in June.

In August, monsoon rains are likely to be "below normal to normal" in the central region, Mohapatra said, where soybean and cotton are grown.

Farmers generally start planting rice, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugarcane and peanuts, among other crops, from June 1, when monsoon rains typically arrive in India. Sowing usually lasts until July or early August.

Indian farmers have planted summer-sown crops on 84.8 million hectares, down 4.7% year-on-year, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare.

The area planted with cotton stood at 11 million hectares versus 12.1 million hectares the previous year, while soybean covered 9.3 million hectares, down 3.4% from a year earlier.

After lashing the southernmost Kerala coast on June 3, the monsoon spread to two-thirds of India by the end of the first half of the month, nearly 15 days earlier than expected. And then it tapered off in the third week of June.

While monsoon rains were still 10% above average in June, they turned 7% below average in July. Overall rains have been 1% below average so far in the season that began in June.

In June, the IMD said India was likely to receive average monsoon rains this year, boosting expectations for larger farm output amid a devastating second wave of COVID-19 infections.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Kim Coghill and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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