MUMBAI – A shortage of water has stunted the growth of sugarcane in Maharashtra and sugar output from the state, India's largest producer of the sweetener, could drop unless it receives adequate rains during the June-September monsoon season, industry executives said Monday.

Sugarcane is a long-duration crop and needs a lot of water. Farmers in Maharashtra planted the crop between June and July 2011 and now it is in its growth stage. Its harvesting will start in October.

Inadequate rains toward the end of the last monsoon and lower pre-monsoon showers this year have created a water shortage for the crop during the critical growth period, potentially affecting its yield and sucrose content.

Rains in Maharashtra between March 1 and April 25 were 59% below the level considered normal, according to the India Meteorological Department.

"There could be a 10% fall in overall production [in Maharashtra] next season, if the water shortage continues," said Ajit Chougule, managing director of Maharashtra State Co-op Sugar Factories Federation Ltd.

Sugar production in Maharashtra is estimated to be about nine million metric tons in the current marketing year, which ends on Sept. 30.

Lower production in Maharashtra, which accounts for one-third of India's output, may affect the country's overall sugar production in 2012-13. The expectation of a decline in output may also limit the scope of more sugar exports next marketing year.

The country has allowed about three million tons of sugar exports in 2011-12 and mills are demanding to allow another one million tons.

The monsoon season is critical for the cane yield and if the water availability remains inadequate, Maharashtra's cane production may decline even beyond 10%, said a senior executive at a large sugar mill in the state.

The weather department said last week that the possibility of El Nino -- a weather condition associated with below-normal rains -- can't be ruled out in the latter part of this year's monsoon season.

If there is enough rainfall during the season, yields may improve, limiting the damage, added B.B. Thombare, chairman of Natural Sugar & Allied Industries Ltd., a sugar mill based in Maharashtra.

source: online.wsj

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