Monsoon lifts cane crop, boosts water table

After a two-week lull in June, monsoon rains revived this month and rapidly advanced to Punjab and Haryana, the country's grain bowl.

Farm Minister Sharad Pawar on Friday said food inflation would fall further as rains would boost harvests, which dipped after the drought in 2009.

Area under cane in Uttar Pradesh, the biggest cane producing state, rose 15 percent to 2.5 million hectares for the next season from October, B.S. Bisht, an official of the state Cane Development Department, told Reuters.

Last year's scanty rain and crop switching by farmers reduced cane planting in the state by 17 percent to 1.78 million hectares, trimming the country's sugar output that fell 44 percent to 14.7 million tonnes.

Poor cane output forced India, the world's top sugar consumer, import large quantities of the sweetener, mostly from Brazil, helping New York raw sugar futures climb to a 29-year-high of 30.40 cents per pound in February.

While rains have helped cane planting in Uttar Pradesh, farmers in Punjab and Haryana have gained from rising levels of groundwater and reservoirs.

"The maximum and minimum temperatures have come down, besides it (rain) will help in recharging the ground water table, which has been under stress due to depleting water level because of increased tube well irrigation," B.S. Duggal, additional director with the Haryana farm department, told Reuters.

Farmers depend on annual monsoon rains, as only 40 percent of cultivated land is irrigated. They are forced to bore deeper to pump out water in case of a failure of monsoon, further depleting the water table.

Officials said heavy rains in the past week, which flooded parts of Haryana, will help replenish ground water and reduce the need to draw water from wells as reservoirs will have more water for irrigation through canals.

Some scientists say wells in Punjab and Haryana have to be drilled up to 100 feet instead of 60-70 feet some years ago, when the region had more ground water.

Rice planting was slow but had gained momentum in Haryana and rains would help cotton and cane as well, the state's farm department said in a statement.

Higher rice output would help India, the world's second-biggest producer, to ease curbs on exports.

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