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Monsoon to hasten final retreat next week

Relatives of Haj pilgrims wave in the rain, as they see off their relatives who are leaving Ahmedabad for Mecca in Saudi Arabia to take part in the annual religious Haj pilgrimage, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave

By Ratnajyoti Dutta

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Heavy monsoon will hasten its retreat next week as the June to September season ends, with any patches of heavier rain tempting farmers to plant winter crops early.

Grains output this summer for one of the world's biggest consumers and producers is forecast to be near an all-time high, leaving plenty for exports and helping to boost growth and trim inflation ahead of May elections.

The monsoon has almost receded from the grain bowl of northwest India and rains will dry up further next week in most parts of the country, weather officials said on Thursday.

"Monsoon is likely to weaken next week in the run up to the final retreat," said B.P. Yadav, chief forecaster of the state-run Meteorological Department.

The rains - crucial for more than half the country's farmland - were 18 percent above average in the week to September 25, compared with 25 percent below average rainfall in the previous week, the weather office said.

Rains at the tail end of the four-month season should help boost the 2013/14 rice yield after earlier patchy rains in growing areas that prompted the government to forecast a marginal year-on-year drop in output to 92.3 million tonnes.

"Farmers will take advantage of last week's good rains and it will encourage them to go for early planting for winter crops," said J.S. Sandhu, the country's farm commissioner.

The rains can also help cut irrigation costs and therefore use of diesel for pumps, which would be another gift for the government as it tries to curb fuel use in the world's fourth-biggest energy consumer.

But late rains may delay the arrival of harvests at markets, which the government will want to avoid as it grapples with a double-digit food inflation.

India is relying on a bumper harvest to help cool inflation, push agricultural growth and help the wider economy, as well as provide ample supplies of rice and wheat to support food subsidy programmes.

Farm growth could be 4.8 percent this year, according to C. Rangarajan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's economic adviser, up from 1.8 percent in 2012/13.

Since June 1, when the four-month monsoon season began, rains have been 5 percent above average.

(Editing by Jo Winterbottom and William Hardy)