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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ This summer's drought-depleted corn and soybean harvests have made it more expensive than usual for some farmers to feed their chickens.

In the Delmarva region _ Delaware, Maryland and Virginia _ production costs at chicken farms have gone up as an area drought has forced farmers to import more feed from the Midwest, agriculture officials said Monday.

Most of the corn and soybeans raised each year in the Delmarva region goes directly to poultry producers, and in the past two years, supply pretty much matched demand. In 2000, Delmarva farmers raised 67.6 million bushels of corn, and 69.7 million bushels were needed to feed the region's broiler chickens.

But this year, corn production in Maryland is expected to be down 42 percent from last year due to the drought, according to last month's figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Maryland Agriculture Statistics Service. The state has had the lowest soybean yield since 1966 and the worst corn yield since 1988, according to Norm Bennett, the state statistician for the service.

Rains this fall came too late to help the corn, and actually hurt the soybean harvest. As of last week, only about 63 percent of Maryland's soybeans had been harvested, down from a five-year average of 90 percent by that time.

``They were really lagging,'' Bennett said. ``We're glad to get the rains, but it made it even more difficult to get the beans out of the fields.''

Feed is the largest expense in raising poultry. Corn makes up about three-fifths of chicken feed, while soybean meal accounts for another fifth, according to Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.

The drought has caused increases in both soybean and corn prices this year.

Farmers nationwide got an average of $1.85 per bushel of corn in November 2001, but they fetched $2.30 this November, according to the USDA. In Maryland, the average price for a bushel of corn went from $1.99 in October 2001 to $2.90 in the same month this year, Bennett said.

Transporting corn by train from the Midwest costs Delmarva poultry producers an additional 35 cents per bushel, Satterfield said. Furthermore, he added, ``the disadvantage is the money's not going to local farmers who tend to produce a better quality corn.''

The drought-induced expenses come during a difficult period for poultry producers. Earlier this year, Russia _ the leading overseas destination for U.S. poultry _ banned imports for five months, citing sanitary concerns. Delmarva producers also spent more this year on preventive measures to stop avian flu, which devastated to the poultry industry in Virginia.

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On the Net:

Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service: http://www.nass.usda.gov/md

Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.: http://www.dpichicken.org/

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A major pork producer has plans for a massive waste treatment plant that could substantially reduce the odor from its hog complex in southwestern Utah, according to state regulators and officials in the area.

With an ``anaerobic digester'' at its core, the plant would better process the tens of millions of gallons of animal waste that result from Circle Four Farms' production of 1 million hogs a year in the area.

The digester, the largest of its type in the country, would convert much of the waste into methane and methanol, providing additional income.

``This could make a big difference. It's huge,'' Dennis Frederick, a scientist for the Utah Division of Water Quality, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Circle Four spokesman Brian Mauldwin confirmed his company is engineering a ``really big project.'' But its parent company, Smithfield Foods, has directed Circle Four not to discuss details of the project publicly, Circle Four attorney Warren Peterson said.

Circle Four had more than $80 million in hog sales last year. The company does not have the water-pollution problems plaguing large animal farm complexes in other parts of the country due in part to its location in a desert.

Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, has been fined more than $15 million for polluting streams and bays in the eastern and southern United States.