Sowing of major crops such as rice, corn and soybeans may be delayed in India as the southwest monsoon, which waters more than half of the country’s farmland, is expected to reach the mainland two days later than usual.

The monsoon will likely arrive the southern state of Kerala on Thursday, according to a statement posted by the India Meteorological Department on its website. The national weather forecaster had earlier predicted an onset date of May 31 for the June-September rainy season, which typically starts on June 1.

Timely arrival of the monsoon is critical for India’s crop output and economic growth at a time when the country is battling the world’s worst outbreak of Covid-19. The virus has spread to rural areas, where about 70% of the nation’s more than 1.3 billion people live. Agriculture accounts for 18% of its economy.

Farmers generally wait for the monsoon to start before they begin planting food grains, cotton, soybeans, peanuts and sugarcane. Any deficit in rains during the early part of the season could delay sowing and reduce harvests, even if the monsoon gathers pace later.

The meteorological department forecast in April that annual rainfall during the monsoon season would be 98% of the long-term average. Last year’s monsoon rain was 9% higher than normal, and it was 10% more than the long-term average in 2019. Bountiful rains helped crops and boosted India’s food grain output to a record in 2020-21.

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