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Farm Exports Expected To Drop

February 22, 1999

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Projected U.S. farm exports for the year were lowered today by $1.5 billion as global demand lags while farmers’ supplies increase.

The new fiscal year 1999 estimate of $49 billion is a sharp decline from November’s $50.5 billion estimate and is $4.6 billion below fiscal 1998, the Agriculture Department said today.

``There is no point in trying to put a shiny gloss on it,″ Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said before the department’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. ``The facts are the facts. I wish I could say we are about to turn the corner.″

Exports began falling last year due to the Asian economic crisis and strong competition from other countries. Since then, Russia’s economy _ a major customer of U.S. poultry for instance _ has joined the crisis.

The drop in exports will likely cause further financial strain in the nation’s farmland. Ever since the phasing out of government payments to farmers in the 1996 farm law, exports have become increasingly important for maintaining prices for U.S. producers.

This year, farmers saw their prices drop to extremely low levels in both commodities and livestock. Congress late last year passed a $6 billion bailout to help. The government also agreed last month to give $50 million to hog farmers, now getting their lowest prices in four decades.

Glickman reiterated a call for Congress to help farmers, mainly by overhauling the crop insurance program. ``We’ve got to be creative in the way we help our farmers,″ he said. ``Lurching from one ad hoc relief bill to the next is not the best way.″

One of the largest drops in exports is to Japan, where the continued recession has dropped the export estimate to $8 billion, 15 percent below 1998. Overall, exports to Asia are forecast at $16.8 billion, compared to $19.6 billion in 1998.

Soybean exports are forecast to drop almost $3.5 billion from last year. Weak foreign demand for cotton are expected to reduce exports of that commodity to $1.4 billion, compared to $2.5 billion last year.

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