Monsoon Turnabout Shifts India’s Crop Outlook

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Early concerns about India’s annual monsoon rainfall totals proved premature as a strong surge in the second half of the season more than offset the lackluster start. In fact, a late departure of the monsoon from the subcontinent means rainfall continues to be strong in early October. While the rainfall volatility has brought its own crop concerns, including floods pressuring production prospects of some crops like soybeans, the strong boost to soil moisture reserves aid many summer-grown crops such as cotton and corn.

The charts above compare district-level soil moisture in India on June 30 of this year (left) to the most recent data as of Sept. 30 (right). National rainfall at the end of September was 110% of the normal level, although the distribution of the monsoon precipitation varied. 

The late swell appeared to surprise the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which in early August was projecting that the monsoon would finish the season totalling 96% of its normal level. Yet in the end rainfall totals came in at 110% of normal.

When Gro analyzed the impact of the slow-starting monsoon on a handful of crops in early July, our work highlighted the strong correlation between production and monsoon rainfall in several key crops, including Gujarati cotton, Marharashtrian sugarcane, and Karnataka’s corn. Soybean production in Madhya Pradesh was notable for its relatively low correlation to the total monsoon rainfall in the state.

India’s monsoon rainfall tally begins on June 1 and continues through Sept. 30. This year rainfall totals in the four studied states were among the highest totals since 2000, according to Gro’s rainfall anomaly data. In Gujarat, that portends a potentially record cotton crop. The correlation between monsoon period rains and production there is 87%. Strong Indian cotton production will likely result in a further build in world cotton stocks and continued pressure on prices of the fiber.

In Karnataka, where corn production has historically been 71% correlated with the state’s monsoon rain totals, production of the grain is likely to be very strong as well. It's the country’s largest corn producing state. The USDA was already projecting a record 29 million-tonne Indian corn crop this year, and the strong monsoon should further boost the outlook and may allow India to export some of its corn over the next year.

In the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh the outlook is less clear. In Gro’s previous analysis, the correlation between Madhya Pradesh monsoon rainfall and soybean production was just 44%. Excessive moisture has historically had a detrimental impact on the state’s soybean crop. In 2013, heavy rain pushed the state’s bean production 28% below normal. This year, the state has seen its highest rainfall totals since that year. News reports estimate 6 million hectares of agricultural land in the state have been affected by heavy rainfall. Weak soybean production in the state may foreshadow strong demand for Indian vegetable oil imports over the coming year.

Parts of the state of Maharashtra have also seen excess moisture this year, according to the IMD’s cumulative monsoon progress table. Reports indicate that hundreds of thousands of hectares of sugarcane fields have been destroyed by floodwaters. However, historical data offers a reason for optimism. The correlation between sugarcane production in Maharashtra and monsoon rainfall is strong at 69%. Previously heavy monsoon rainfall years of 2007, 2010, and 2013 all saw strong sugarcane production at the state level, according to the India Department of Agriculture Cooperation’s data.

2019’s monsoon season got off to a slow start in India, but by the official Sept. 30 end date, rainfall totals were running in excess of their normal levels in much of the subcontinent. Northern areas did see rainfall deficits. Many southern areas saw floods and great devastation. The crop outlook is mixed, but India looks primed to see a strong cotton crop, and there’s reason to be optimistic about the country’s sugarcane crop as well. And as we move into the fall crop planting season with soil moisture reserves well supplied, the country’s rabi, or winter, crop prospects are good.

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