The southwest monsoon has slipped into deficit in its final lap, after an overall decent run during the first three months of the season.
The country as a whole has, as on September 19, cumulatively received an average area-weighted rainfall of 750.5 mm during the current monsoon season from June 1. This is 10.1 per cent below the historical long-term average of 834.5 mm for the same period, making it a “below normal” monsoon. That, as per the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) definition, refers to rainfall deficiency exceeding 10 per cent of the long-period average.
The slippage has happened only this month. It can be seen from the accompanying table that the all-India average rainfall was well within the “normal” departure range of 10 per cent in June, July and August. In the current month, though, the rains have so far been almost a third lower than the historical average. If the trend holds, this September would turn out to be the driest in 17 years.
Interestingly, even Kerala — which recorded above average precipitation of 15.4 per cent in June, 18.1 per cent in July and 95.9 per cent in August — has received a mere 8.8 mm of rain this month till September 19. That is a whopping 93.5 per cent below the state’s historical average of 135.9 mm for this period.
According to the IMD data, 12 of out the country’s 36 meteorological subdivisions have registered deficient rainfall – i.e. departure of 20 per cent of more from long period average – during this monsoon season till September 19. This covers the whole of Gujarat (including Saurashtra and Kutch), Bihar, Jharkhand, West Rajasthan, Haryana (including Delhi and Chandigarh), the entire North East (Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura), Rayalaseema and North Interior Karnataka.
The poor rainfall activity this month is, however, unlikely to significantly impact agricultural production. The main reason for it is that much of kharif plantings happen in June-July. Most parts of the country, except Bihar, Jharkhand and the North-East states, received enough rains for farmers to take up sowing operations. Some areas such as Marathwada, North Karnataka and Gujarat (especially Saurashtra) did experience dry spells during the crop’s vegetative growth phase, but the situation is nowhere close to the drought situation seen in 2014 and 2015.
There are concerns over the cotton crop in Gujarat’s main Saurashtra belt, which is in boll formation and flowering stage. Moisture stress could affect yields, but the positive news this time is that no large-scale pest attacks — whether by pink bollworm or whitely — have been reported in the country’s major cotton-growing areas.
As things stand, it would seem that this year’s kharif crop wouldn’t be as good as in the last two years, but there is certainly no possibility of a repeat of 2014 and 2015. Also, the price outlook for crops such as cotton and soyabean seems better than last year. The cotton crop and also the short-duration Pusa-1509 basmati paddy have already started arriving in the markets of Punjab and Haryana. They are trading at levels that farmers can be reasonably pleased about.
Meanwhile, the IMD has forecast rains over Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand and Gangetic West Bengal over the next 48 hours, and over central and adjoining Peninsular India and North West India during September 21-25. This is on account of a well-marked low pressure area over East-central Bay of Bengal, which is likely to develop into a deep depression over the next 24 hours.
That should help bolster the soil and sub-soil moisture for farmers in the coming rabi sowing season. One worry here could be El Nino. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have forecast an El Nino event — the abnormal warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean Waters, seen to adversely impact rains in India — to take place after November. That could have a bearing on the winter rains, which are crucial for crops such as wheat, mustard and chana.