Hanoi, July 23 - Fast-rising waters are arriving in Vietnam's Mekong Delta in a prelude to seasonal floods that could submerge rice fields that are still in the midst of harvesting, forecasters said.
Rice harvesting in the Delta appeared to be behind schedule partly due to rains, with only 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) so far harvested as part of the monthly target for 800,000 hectares, an Agriculture Ministry official said.
Rains have raised quality concerns as the summer-autumn rice harvest is due to peak next week, Pham Van Du, deputy head of the ministry's Crops Department, was quoted by Thursday's Tuoi Tre newspaper as saying.Mekong waters from Cambodia are forecast to rise to 2.65 metres (8.7 feet) by Sunday at the Tan Chau gauging station, a Mekong river report cited readings in the key rice-growing province of An Giang as saying.
At 3-metres above sea level there is a threat to low embankments and possibility of flooding in low lying areas.Seasonal floods on the Mekong, which flows 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from the glaciers of Tibet through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, often peak in Vietnam's Mekong Delta from late September and recede in November.
"It is early to gauge damage to crops but right now rice is still safe thanks to the dyke system," forecaster Vo Thanh of An Giang's weather station told Reuters by telephone.
Seasonal floods mostly favour farmers because they help wash pests and rats off the fields while bringing fertile soil to the delta, and also provide side businesses such as fishing.
Traders said rains in the past 10 days in the Mekong Delta have disrupted drying of summer-autumn paddy, used mostly for low-quality 25 percent broken rice for export.The Delta provides half of Vietnam's paddy output but supplies 90 percent of the country's exportable grain.
The official Vietnam News Agency said farmers in the Delta province of Tra Vinh had to sell rice as animal feed after rains prevented drying. Tra Vinh is a minor rice growing provinces.
The Mekong Delta could reap 9.5 million tonnes of summer-autumn paddy from 1.6 million hectares planted to make 2 million tonnes of husked rice available for export, experts said.Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, has contracted to sell 5.4 million tonnes of the grain so far this year, and has shipped 3.86 million tonnes as of July 17, the Vietnam Food Association said.
The country could export a record 6 million tonnes of rice in 2009, up 21.5 percent from last year, industry reports and traders have said.