NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indias monsoon, vital to hundreds of millions of farmers and of crucial importance after the worst drought in 37 years, will be normal strength this year, the weather office said Friday. The first official long-range forecast relied on data from local and foreign climatologists to make the best possible prediction for the wet season, which sweeps across the subcontinent from June to September. Though the projection is far from infallible, it is considered the best guess for the fickle rains which were 30 percent below their long-term average in 2009, bringing misery to farmers and hitting the national economy. The weather office said its forecast is that the rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be normal with rains expected to be 98 percent of the long-term average. The drought of 2009, the worst since 1972, has hit crop yields and farm incomes nation-wide, leading to much higher food prices and an increase in rural hardship. More than 70 percent of Indians depend on farm incomes, and about 65 percent of the nations farms lack irrigation, meaning they depend entirely on the rains that fall in intense bursts over the wet season. Farmers said this years rains are crucial because their fields are parched and the groundwater table has dropped dramatically. It will be a curse on our land if the rains are not normal. We will die, said Kismat Singh Bundela, a farmer and president of Krishi Vikas Sangh, a farmer development association, in the northern state of Punjab. Last year, we could not sow seeds due to the shortage of water, he said. The omens would appear to be in their favour: data from the weather office shows that out of the roughly 20 droughts India has suffered since 1901, 17 were followed by near-normal rainfall. India is the worlds second-biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugarcane and the national economy, despite its flagship IT and outsourcing sector, is still heavily dependent on agriculture. Summer crops, such as rice, sugarcane, cotton and oilseeds, are sown in July and harvested from October. They depend on the rains and provide moisture for winter crops which are sown in November and harvested in March. Commodity and weather experts said the monsoon forecast by the government is a crucial primary prediction but it is often a bit vague and lacks accuracy. Predicting the monsoon is difficult because several factors play a crucial role and no one can guarantee an exact forecast, said agri-scientist K.V Dey at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi. For drought-hit 2009, the weather office had forecast near normal rainfall, with the monsoon seen 96 percent of the long-term average.