A 31 per cent deficient and somewhat delayed southwest monsoon is a matter of concern but isn’t worrisome, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told journalists here on Tuesday.

The Minister said scanty rain had hit cultivation of coarse cereals but production of rice crop was unlikely to be affected, as the monsoon was expected to revive next week. In Punjab and Haryana, rice was cultivated under irrigated conditions.

Besides, paddy sowing had progressed well in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and coastal Andhra Pradesh, which received good rains.

Surplus food stock can help the government make available sufficient quantities to States, and offload wheat and rice in the open market, if the situation so demanded. “At an appropriate time, the government can take a decision to enter the open market [to release foodgrains],” Mr. Pawar said.

“Till July 2, the country was deficient by almost 31 per cent in monsoon rainfall, but the situation is expected to improve from next week,” he said.

“It is true that cultivation is affected in States that go in for early sowing, such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but compared to normal years, the situation isn’t worrisome.”

The crop year 2011-12 was a year of “record foodgrain production” at 252.56 million tonnes, due to a good monsoon.

Widespread deficiency in rains in western and central India had affected coarse cereals, particularly maize, bajra and jowar.

The worst-hit States were Karnataka, Rajasthan, and parts of Maharashtra.

“This,” he said, “may result in some diversion of land to oilseeds and pulses, which is a good thing, [as the country is deficient in these two commodities and imports large quantities every year].”

States were ready with contingency plans, and farmers had been asked to go in for alternative crops like pulses, oilseeds, and direct sowing of paddy if the monsoon didn’t revive till the middle of July.

Sowing of rice, pulses, and cotton could continue till the beginning of August.

“The farmer knows if and when to shift [to alternative crop],” Mr. Pawar said.

There are no immediate concerns on availability of fodder. In fact, the Minister would rather the government take a decision to export the huge quantities of Skimmed Milk Powder and Casein lying in National Dairy Development Board stocks. But, there is some concern regarding water levels in important reservoirs being lower than last year, particularly in Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tripura, and West Bengal.

“Average water level in major reservoirs is 62 per cent of last year’s level,” Agriculture Secretary Ashish Bahuguna said.. This may impact drinking water supply apart from irrigation.

The India Meteorological Department has said that July and August will see revival of monsoon activity, leading to 90 per cent coverage for the entire season. “In the two months, there will be ample opportunity to cover up,” the Minster assured.

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