New Delhi: The forecast of a normal monsoon this year is a shot in the arm for the agriculture sector and the government is hopeful that both productivity and production of key crops will rise from the previous year (2017-18), a top agriculture ministry official said on Tuesday.

“The met department has forecast that monsoon will be 97% of long period (50-year) average in 2018 and this forecast is higher than the 95% (of normal) rains seen in 2017," said Shobhana Pattanayak, agriculture secretary, adding, “this will ensure ample water for farming as well as improve reservoir levels across the country.

“We are hopeful that both planting area and productivity levels will improve leading to higher year-on-year output of foodgrains," Pattanayak said.

On the possible impact of successive years of record production leading to lower crop prices, Pattanayak said that the government has taken several pro-farmer trade policy decisions such as opening up exports of pulses and restricting imports which will show results in the next few months.

“We will be ready with a new price support based procurement policy (for pulses and oilseeds) before the Kharif harvest begins (in October) to ensure better prices to farmers," he said.

Next week, following a consultation with states, the agriculture ministry will release its production targets for the upcoming Kharif crop season which begins in June with the onset of monsoon.

The comments from the agriculture ministry come on the back of the robust monsoon forecast issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday. In its first long range forecast, the IMD said there is a 54% chance that rains will be normal to above normal while the possibility of deficient rains is just 14%.

The June to September south-west monsoon is critical to rural India as it waters over half of the crop area in the country which lacks assured irrigation. If IMD’s forecast holds true, 2018 will mark the third successive year of normal to near normal rains.

In 2014 and 2015 deficient rains led to a widespread drought which impacted production of foodgrains and shrunk the growth rate in agriculture GDP