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Winter Wheat Crop Down 14 Percent

May 12, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. winter wheat production is down 14 percent and the soybean crop is expected to rise to a record high as the lagging farm economy sends many farmers to alternative crops.

The monthly crop report issued by the Agriculture Department today also offered proof that the farm woes have taken a toll on cotton. Final 1998 production numbers show a 26 percent drop from the previous year. The 13.9 million bales produced last season, as many states endured drought and high temperatures, was the smallest crop since 1989.

Production of winter wheat is forecast at 1.61 billion bushels. The area for the 1999 grain harvest is forecast at 36.3 million acres, a 9 percent decrease from 1998. If realized, this would be the smallest winter wheat area since 1971.

By contrast, oilseed production is projected to increase nearly 6 percent to a record 89.7 million tons. Most of the increase is in soybeans, which are expected to rise to a record 78.4 million tons.

Soybean prices are expected to drop this season to $4.75 a bushel, compared to $5.05 last year and $6.47 in 1997. Still, soybean prices have fared better than wheat, which is projected to get around $2.60 to $3.10 a bushel.

The low prices are a continuation of a farm crisis that last year led Congress to pass a $6 billion aid deal for farmers. With the price problem expected to continue much of this year, some lawmakers are already discussing another bailout package for farmers.

Farm-state Democrats have even launched an effort to get $4.7 billion in emergency aid attached to a supplemental package now moving through Congress.

Orange production is also expected to take a hit, the government said. Production this season is forecast at 9.84 million tons, down 1 percent from last month but 28 percent lower than last year’s record 13.7 million ton crop.

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