(Bloomberg) -- Major rice exporter Vietnam has asked some farmers to plant their crop early on concerns about a water shortage, in part due to El Niño.

Growers in a section of the Mekong Delta that accounts for 26% of the region’s winter-spring rice crop have been directed to start planting from early next month, rather than November, to avoid potential water shortages at the end of the harvest, according to Vietnam’s Plant Production Department.

El Niño typically brings hotter and drier conditions to parts of Asia and can lead to drought, damaging crops. Vietnam’s Plant Production Department estimated rice paddy production from the delta during the upcoming season could drop by 20,000 tons from a year earlier to about 10.7 million tons.

The department said that increased water use upstream of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta would contribute to the expected shortages, without elaborating.

The delta’s winter-spring season typically starts around November-December. Grain is harvested from February and usually yields the nation’s biggest crop. The department said drought and salinity over the 2023-24 growing period may be as severe as 2015-16, which was another period of El Niño conditions.

The Mekong Delta accounts for about half of Vietnam’s planted rice area and as much as 90% of the nation’s exports of the grain. The department said drought conditions wouldn’t be as bad as 2019-20, when Vietnam ordered a halt to new export contracts due to food security concerns.

The global rice market has been upended this year by export restrictions from top shipper India. It’s led to a flurry of deals and diplomacy, and a surge in prices last month to the highest level in almost 15 years.

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