Despite increased chances of the monsoon rains this year to be a tad below normal \u2014 about 95% of the long-period average (LPA) against the \u2018normal\u2019 of 96-104% of LPA \u2014, good distribution of rains coupled with the incentive of higher and assured minimum support prices have boosted the prospect of the 2018 kharif output being at par with the last summer crop\u2019s. Also, higher water reserves in key reservoirs across the country could help the next rabi (winter) crop. As on Friday, kharif sowing area was down just 1.8% from the year-ago period, from a wider gap of 7.5% prevailing a week earlier. Among major crops, sowing areas for paddy, pulses and cotton are now just 4% below the levels a year ago compared with 12%, 9% and 8%, respectively, a week ago, but the area under oilseeds is now 6% higher than a year ago, a marked improvement from down 1% last week. Government officials are relieved on the recovery in area under tur, which is now 1.3% higher than year-ago level. The pulses area may match last year\u2019s kharif acreage of about 137 lakh hectare as farmers in Maharashtra are likely to go for urad as an inter-crop in their cotton and soyabean fields, officials said. Urad area has declined 11.28% so far in the ongoing sowing season. India last year produced record 24.5 million tonne of pulses on an increased area of 288.3 lakh hectares. \u201cCoffee and Tea planters in the south of India have some respite from excess rainfall received in the region until last week, as the monsoon winds start moving to the north,\u201d CARE Ratings wrote on Friday. \u201cThe rainfall during August 2018 is likely to be 96% (plus\/minus 9%) of LPA and expected to be higher than (94%) predicted in June. Quantitatively, the rainfall for the country as a whole during the second half of the season is likely to be 95% of LPA with a model error of plus or minus 8%,\u201d the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said in a statement. The rainfall was 94% of LPA in the critical June-July period. The distribution of rains was good in most parts of the country key to kharif performance, barring Bihar, Jharkhand and North-East. \u201cSome farmers in Bihar and Jharkhand will shift to maize and pulses from paddy. This time the real issue to look for is whether market prices of crops will also increase in tandem with the hike in MSPs,\u201d said Siraj Hussain, former Union agriculture secretary. \u201cThis year\u2019s rainfall pattern is (akin to) what is normally seen in a good monsoon year. The deficiency is high only in Bihar, Jharkhand and north-eastern region while other parts have received very good rains,\u201d said DS Pai, head of IMD\u2019s long-range forecast division. The El-Nino was the only concern since Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is neutral, he said, adding other factors such as frequent emergence of low pressure are helping the monsoon. CARE Ratings wrote: \u201cMonsoon conditions in the Saurashtra belt continues to remain a concern, as it received rainfall 18% less than normal. Amongst the regions receiving deficient rainfall, Rayalseema received the lowest rainfall which was 43% below normal. The north-eastern regions continue to be affected by a deficient rainfall, as the monsoon winds progress towards the north central belt. East and west Uttar Pradesh regions have begun to receive normal rainfall, unlike last week. However, Bihar and Jharkhand continues to receive deficient rainfall.\u201d Considering the rainfall in the past two months and IMD forecast for August-September, the season may end up with rainfall at 94.5% of LPA. During the four-month monsoon season, rains in the range of 96-104% of the LPA of 89 cm is considered normal while 90-96% shower of the LPA is categorised as \u2018below normal\u2019. In May, the weather bureau had predicted 97% of LPA for the whole of the season. Private forecaster Skymet Weather on August 1 lowered its seasonal monsoon forecast to 92% of the LPA from 100%, announced in April. It has cited the continuing warming of the sea surface in the Pacific Ocean as an important factor for downgrading its forecast.