NEW DELHI - Indian farmers have planted 1.96 million hectares with summer-sown rice so far, farm ministry data showed on Friday, down 46% from last year mainly due to a weak start to the monsoon.

The outlook is better, however, as the monsoon has gathered steam. Summer rains have covered more than half of the country, with the rainfall deficit getting narrowed to 2% from 36%.

The planting has just started, and the area under rice could go up with a pick-up in monsoon rains, said B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association.

Farmers generally start planting rice, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugarcane and peanuts, among other crops, from June, when monsoon rains typically arrive in India. Sowing usually lasts until July.

Monsoon rains play a crucial role in agriculture - which employs nearly 50% of India's workforce - as nearly half of the country's farmland lacks irrigation.

The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare will keep updating the provisional crop sowing figures as it gathers more information from state governments.

The planting figures are also subject to revision depending on the progress of the June-September monsoon season.

The area planted with cotton totalled 3.18 million hectares, down from 3.73 million hectares a year earlier. Monsoon rains have been sparse over cotton-growing areas in Gujarat and Maharashtra states in the west.

Farmers have a relatively short window to complete cotton sowing and that's why rains need to pick up to help growers plant the crop.

The sowing of soybeans, the main summer oilseed crop, stood at 278,000 million hectares, compared with 1.25 million hectares at the same time in 2021.

The area planted with protein-rice pulse rose to 202,000 hectares against 132,000 hectares last year.

But pulse acreage could drop in the next few weeks as some farmers might switch to more lucrative cotton and soybean, said Nitin Kalantri, a trader based in Maharashtra.

Sugarcane planting was almost unchanged at 5.07 million hectares.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav; editing by David Evans)