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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Big Harvests Expected for Major U.S. Crops; May Add to Pressure on Prices - 2004-08-30

Broadcast: August 31, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Late summer is when many farmers begin to know what size harvest to expect in the fall. And it appears that American farmers can expect several major crops to be at or near record levels this year.

The Agriculture Department says corn production is expected to reach almost eleven thousand million bushels. Each bushel is a little more than thirty-five liters. The United States is the largest producer and exporter of maize. A harvest this big would be eight percent larger than last year’s levels, which set a record. It would also represent greater productivity. Farmers expect a record yield, or the amount produced per hectare.

The soybean crop this year is expected to be the second largest ever recorded. It is expected to be nineteen percent larger than last year. The soybean yield is also expected to increase.

Cotton farmers are also expected to have a good year with an eleven percent increase in their harvest. They are expected to produce twenty million bales of cotton. One bale weighs about two hundred twenty-seven kilograms.

Big harvests may seem like good news for farmers. Experts credit good weather conditions and improved seed for higher farm production and yields. But there are the laws of supply and demand. If supply increases, unless demand also increases, prices can drop. And prices have been going down through the summer.

In April, the price of corn futures reached their highest level in years. But since April, prices of corn futures on the Chicago Board of Trade have fallen by about thirty percent. Futures are financial tools that generally do not involve the exchange of real goods, but they can affect prices. Farmers or investors use futures to protect against changes in the market.

Prices for soybean futures have also dropped from highs in April. The United States Department of Agriculture says China may decrease its soybean imports. China is the world’s biggest importer of soybeans. At the same time, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay -- all big South American producers of soybeans -- have surpluses.

Lower prices and too much supply may not help farmers. But they do help companies that buy from farmers. Lower prices can also increase exports.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Gwen Outen.