NEW DELHI, July 12 (Reuters) - Indian farmers have planted 41.3 million hectares with summer crops, down 8.6% year on year, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare said on Friday, though the gap in sowing narrowed from the previous week as monsoon rains picked up.
Farmers start planting their summer-sown crops from June 1 when monsoon rains are expected to reach India, where nearly half of farmlands lack irrigation. Planting usually continues until the end of July.
Planting of rice, the key summer crop, was at 9.8 million hectares as of Wednesday versus 11 million hectares in the previous year, the ministry said. Corn planting was at 4.1 million hectares, almost unchanged from the previous week.
The area planted with cotton was also unchanged at 7.8 million hectares.
Sowing of soybean, the main summer oilseed crop, was at 5.2 million hectares, down from 6.4 million hectares the previous year.
Other crop plantings such as pulses and sugar cane were also down versus last year.
The figures are provisional and subject to revision as updates arrive with the progress of the June-September monsoon season.
Monsoon rains in the week ending on Wednesday were above average for the first time since the start of the season, helping farmers to accelerate the planting of summer-sown crops and easing concerns of drought.
A normal, or average, monsoon means rainfall between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 89 cm (35 inches) during the four-month monsoon season, according to India's weather office.
This week's heavier monsoon cut the rainfall deficit since the start of the season to 14% from 28% last week.
Water levels in India's main reservoirs were at 22% of their storage capacity against 23% a year earlier, according to the latest government data. The last 10 years' average stood at 23%.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Jan Harvey)
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