By Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's rice farmers have planted 4.3 million hectares with the grain so far this season, farm ministry data showed on Friday, down 27% from the same period last year after lower than usual June rainfall.
Millions of Indian farmers plant crops such as rice, corn, cotton, soybeans and sugarcane in the monsoon months of June and July, with the harvest starting in October.
India is likely to receive monsoon rainfall between 94% and 106% of the long-term average in July, the most crucial month for the planting of summer crops.
The weather office defines average rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 87 cm (35 inches) for the entire four-month season beginning in June. Rains between 90% and 96% are considered below average.
"West Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh immediately need two to three good spells of rain, or both the area and productivity could be affected," said one Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm, referring to the top rice-growing states in the world's biggest exporter of the commodity.
Rice planting could pick up, but low rainfall could hit crop yields, said the dealer, who declined to be identified because he is not authorised to talk to the media.
Patchy monsoon rains would stunt the crop and cut yields, leading to a drawdown in state inventories that would trigger export curbs to ensure sufficient supplies for the country's 1.4 billion people.
The area planted with cotton totalled 6.4 million hectares, up from 6.2 million hectares a year earlier.
Sowing of soybeans, the main summer oilseed crop, stood almost unchanged at 3 million hectares.
Sugarcane planting was almost unchanged at 5.3 million hectares.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by David Goodman)