Ample monsoon rains push India's summer crop plantings to record

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Plentiful monsoon rains spurred Indian farmers to plant summer crops across a record swathe of farmland 7% bigger than last year, promising a bumper harvest in Asia's third-biggest economy, despite the rapid spread of coronavirus.

Farm ministry data shows growers sowed 108.2 million hectares (267.4 million acres) with crops such as rice, corn, cotton, soybeans and sugarcane.

Planting began on June 1, when monsoon rains typically hit India, where nearly half of farmland does not receive irrigation.

"We're confident that food production will cross the target of 298.32 million tonnes in the 2020-21 crop year," said Farm Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, praising farmers for the record acreage.

Such a harvest would outstrip the previous year's record output of 295.67 million tonnes.

Between Friday and June 1, farmers planted a greater acreage of every single summer crop than last year, the data showed.

Rice, the main food crop of the world's second-most populous nation, was planted across 38.9 million hectares (96.1 million acres), up from 35.4 million hectares (87.4 million acres) in the year-earlier period.

Oilseeds were planted across 19.3 million hectares (47.6 million acres), up from 17 million hectares (42 million acres).

Sowing of soybean, the main summer oilseed crop, stood at 12 million hectares (29.6 million acres), versus 11.3 million hectares (27.9 million acres).

Sugar cane planting was marginally higher, at 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres).

Protein-rich pulses, a staple of the Indian diet, were planted across 13.4 million hectares (33.1 million acres), up from last year's 12.9 million hectares (31.9 million acres).

Corn acreage of 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) exceeded last year's 7.9 million hectares (19.5 million acres).

The area planted with cotton totalled 12.8 million hectares (31.6 million acres) against 12.5 million hectares (30.9 million acres).

The farm ministry could revise its preliminary planting figures, however, as more data flows in from Indian states.

After a spell of patchy rain in the last two weeks of July, India received rainfall in August that was 24% above the average, a trend weather officials see as likely to run until the end of the month.

India has the most virus infections in Asia, ranking third globally after Brazil and the United States. A record daily high of 77,266 new infections on Thursday took India's tally to 3.3 million, with a toll of 61,529 deaths.

Every day since Aug. 7, it has posted the highest daily increase worldwide.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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