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India's summer crop acreage down 2.3%, sowing gap narrows

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Indian farmers have planted summer-sown crops on 97.5 million hectares, down 2.3% year on year, agriculture ministry data showed on Friday, substantially narrowing the sowing gap compared with last year from previous weeks.

The planting of rice, a key summer crop, was at 33.5 million hectares, against 35.8 million hectares at the same time last year, the ministry said. Corn planting was at 7.5 million hectares, almost unchanged from the same period last year.

The area planted with cotton totalled 12.3 million hectares, up from 11.7 million hectares a year earlier.

Sowing of soybeans, the main summer oilseed crop, stood at 11.2 million hectares, compared with 11.1 million hectares at the same time in 2018.

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.

The gap between planting figures for equivalent weeks of 2019 and 2018 has narrowed from the 4.1% reported last week.

The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare will keep updating provisional sowing figures as it gathers more information from state governments. The planting figures are also subject to revision depending on the progress of the June-September monsoon season.

Monsoon rains play a crucial role in agriculture - which employs 50% of India's workforce - as nearly half of the country's farmland lacks irrigation.

Monsoon rains in India in the week to Wednesday were above average for a fourth straight week, with floods hitting many districts in the northern parts of the country.

India received 10% more rainfall than the 50-year average in the week to Aug. 21, data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) showed, with rice growing north-west India receiving 63% more rain.

The IMD defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 89 centimetres for the entire four-month season beginning in June.

Water levels in India's main reservoirs were at 73% of their storage capacity against 61% at the same time last year, government data shows. The average for the past 10 years is 58%. (Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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