WASHINGTON (B)--U.S. Department of Agriculture Feb. 24 raised its fiscal 2000 farm commodity export forecast to $49.5 billion, up from a previous a prediction of $49 billion.

USDA said it has raised its fiscal 2000 estimates because of increased U.S. cotton exports and stronger overseas livestock sales. However, the revised export projections do not include the recently announced 3 billion tonnes of additional U.S. food aid as part of the 416b program.

USDA projected that U.S. farmers will export 109.7 million tonnes of bulk commodities in fiscal 2000, up slightly from November estimates of 109.4 million. Export forecasts for corn, soybeans, cotton and livestock are up over November forecasts, while new USDA projections of wheat, soymeal and vegetable oil are all down slightly.

Corn exports are expected to reach 48 million tonnes in 2000, up from November estimates of 47.5 million. Cotton exports are expected to reach 1.4 million tonnes, up from earlier estimates of 1.3 million. Soybean exports are

expected to reach 24.4 million tonnes, up from November forecast of 23.6 million. Total livestock exports are expected to reach 3.3 million tonnes, up from last year's estimates of 3.2 million.

Wheat exports are expected to be 26.5 million tonnes in 2000, down from November's estimate of 27.9 million. Soymeal exports are expected at 6.4 million tonnes, down from previous estimates of 6.7 million. Vegetable oil exports are seen at 700,000 tonnes, down from November estimates of 800,000.

USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins, in a speech, attributed the improved U.S. farm export outlook to a growing world economy, particularly in Latin America and Asia.

"World economic growth in 2000 is forecast to exceed 3%, a rate not seen since 1997. Southeast Asian economies are expected to grow 6% this year, compared with a 6% contraction in 1998. And Latin America is expected to post a 2.7% gain this year, after being in recession in 1999," Collins said.

"U.S. exports to these regions should improve, but overall export recovery will be slow, as little import growth is expected from major, or formerly major, markets such as Japan, China, Russia, or the EU," Collins said.

Collins is expected to say that the outlook for U.S. livestock prices is far rosier than the outlook for crop prices. Cattle prices are expected to increase 5% in 2000 following a 7% decline in 1999, and the decline in cattle herd numbers is expected to result in a 2.5% decline in beef production in 2000.

Pork production is expected to fall about 3% in 2000, with Collins saying that hog prices could reach $40 per hundredweight this year, enabling "many producers to finally operate in the black."

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