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UPDATE 1-India's weather office forecasts average monsoon rains in 2018
* Monsoon rains seen at 97 percent of a long-term average
* Low probability of a deficit monsoon - weather office chief
* Weather office to issue updated monsoon forecast in early June (Adds details, background)
By Sudarshan Varadhan and Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI, April 16 (Reuters) - India is likely to receive average monsoon rains in 2018, the weather office said, raising the possibility of higher farm and economic growth in Asia's third-biggest economy, where half of the farmland lacks irrigation.
Monsoon rains, the lifeblood of the country's $2 trillion economy, are expected to be 97 percent of a long-term average, K.J. Ramesh, director general of the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD), told a news conference.
"We see very less probability of a deficit monsoon," Ramesh said.
Other than lifting farm and wider economic growth, a wet spell will keep a lid on inflation, potentially tempting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring forward general elections due in May 2019.
India's weather office defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cms for the entire four-month season beginning June.
"The moderate La Nina conditions developed in the equatorial Pacific during last year started weakening in the early part of this year and currently have turned to weak La Nina conditions," IMD said in a statement.
La Nina is a weather pattern that brings equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures, rainfall patterns and winds closer to average.
The latest forecasts from global models indicate conditions over the Pacific will turn neutral before the beginning of monsoon season, the IMD said.
Good rains will spur the planting of crops such as rice, corn, cotton and soybeans, accelerating economic growth that rose 7.2 percent in the December quarter, its fastest in five quarters, compared with China's 6.8 percent in that quarter.
Growth in the December quarter restored India's status as the world's fastest growing major economy.
On Monday, government data showed that India's wholesale food prices fell 0.07 percent in March 2018 from a year earlier.
India's weather office will update its forecast in June.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Malini Menon and David Evans)
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