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NEW DELHI: Indian farmers have planted 49.9 million hectares (123 million acres) with summer crops, down 10.43 percent from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, as monsoon rains taper off after a strong start last month.

Farmers typically start planting summer-sown crops on June 1, when monsoon rains usually reach India. Planting then continues until early August.

Planting of rice, the key summer crop, was at 11.5 million hectares as of July 9 versus 12.6 million hectares in the previous year, the ministry said.

The area planted with cotton was at 8.6 million hectares versus 10.5 million hectares the prior year.

Planting of overall oilseeds, including soybean - the main summer oilseed crop - was at 11.2 million hectares, down from 12.6 million hectares the previous year.

Soybean sowing was at 8.2 million hectares against 9.2 million hectares last year. India is the world’s biggest buyer of cooking oils.

Sugarcane sowing in the world’s second biggest sugar producer was almost unchanged at 5.3 million hectares.

Farmers planted protein-rich pulse on 5.2 million hectares against 5.3 million hectares in the previous year. The figures are provisional and subject to revision as the June-September monsoon season progresses.

India, one of the world’s top agriculture producers, has received 5percent below average rainfall since June 1, when the four-month rainy season began. Monsoon rains were 46 below average in the week to July 7.

The state-run weather office defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96percent and 104percent of a 50-year average of 88 cm for the entire season.

Monsoon rains, which turned patchy at the tail-end of June, will pick up later this week, India’s top weather official told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Nearly half of India’s farmland has no irrigation and is dependent on monsoon rains that account for 70percent-90percent of annual rainfall. Farming contributes almost 15percent to India’s $2.7 trillion economy.

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