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Report: US cotton production expected to drop

New Orleans_U.S. cotton production is expected to drop to 13.8 million bales, the lowest level since 1989, after farmers planted fewer acres in favor of higher-priced crops and severe weather took a toll.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a report released Tuesday, said planted acreage has declined from 10.8 million acres in 2007 to 9.2 million this year. The decline has been further compounded by Texas growers, affected by drought and Hurricane Dolly, abandoning a huge chunk of their crop, 1.3 million acres.

Since farmers brought in 23.9 million bales in 2005, the country's total cotton production has fallen steadily. Only three states, Alabama, Oklahoma and Virginia, are expected to see increases in production this year, based on Aug. 1 conditions, the report says. Production in South Carolina is expected to be unchanged.

Texas leads the major cotton producing states expecting steep declines. Production there is forecast to fall from 8.3 million bales last year to 5.2 million this year.

In Louisiana, production is expected to reach 540,000 bales, the lowest level in 25 years. The projected yield of 909 pounds an acre, may be a bit optimistic, given the recent dry weather in the state's cotton belt, said Jess Barr, executive vice president of the Louisiana Cotton Growers Association.

He said he's hopeful that apparently tightening supplies could push up the price for the costly-to-produce, labor-intensive crop - and boost production next year.

Last year, high corn prices helped fuel a switch from cotton acreage in Louisiana. This year, high soybean and rice prices "contributed to the all-time low in cotton acreage planted in the state," said Nathan Crisp, director of Louisiana's branch of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Louisiana farmers planted just 290,000 acres of cotton, 45,000 fewer than a year earlier.

Nationwide, rice production is expected to rise to 204.9 million hundredweight, with all the major producing states, except California, anticipating larger crops.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Mark Sanford asked that all but two of South Carolina's counties be declared federal disaster areas because of the region's ongoing drought, a situation he said is threatening the state's vital agriculture industry.

In the Wednesday letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, Sanford said more than 30 percent of this year's harvest of corn, hay and pasture crops has been lost because of the drought.

"The Southeast has experienced a period of serious drought for more than a year now," Sanford wrote in the letter, sent as he toured hard-hit areas in Pickens County.

Only two counties - Charleston and Beaufort, which Sanford said "are not reporting losses at this time" - were not included in the request. If approved, the disaster declaration would allow farmers to get low-interest emergency loans.

The situation has been most dire in the northwestern portion of the state, where some wells have gone dry and at least two lakes have registered at least 10 feet below normal this summer.

The Drought Response Committee has asked residents in a 14-county extreme drought area - a wedge mostly between Interstate 20 and Interstate 26 from the Savannah River on the Georgia state line to the Upstate along the North Carolina line - to aggressively conserve water on their own, and some water systems imposed their own restrictions on washing cars and watering lawns.

Committee chairman Steve de Kozlowski has said the state does not impose mandatory restrictions on water consumption unless public health or resources are threatened, urging local water systems to act independently.

USDA officials say there is no deadline for Schafer to respond to the request. Several states across the country, including Hawaii, New Mexico and Oklahoma, have received federal disaster aid for crop losses due to drought conditions this summer.

Becky Bohrer, AP Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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