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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A short supply of cotton and overabundance of soybeans are the main factors in Tennessee’s agricultural outlook this summer, a University of Tennessee agricultural economist said Friday.

Dr. Delton Gerloff of UT’s Agricultural Extension Service said cotton acreage dropped nationwide, declining from 480,000 acres in 1997 to 445,000 this year in Tennessee. Drought in the Southwest also cut production, he said.

Despite the short supply, lack of demand has prevented the large price increase growers hoped for, Gerloff said.

”Financial problems in Southeast Asia and less demand from Europe dropped exports of cotton from 7.5 million bales last year to a projected 4.9 million bales this year,” Gerloff said. ”With the smaller U.S. crop, there is still a chance for prices to rise, but they have not yet reached growers’ expectations.”

Soybeans — Tennessee’s top cash crop last year — are in oversupply nationwide, although Tennessee’s 1.20 million acres was about the same as 1997, Gerloff said.

”With so many beans on the market, prices have plunged,” Gerloff said. ”Peak prices soybeans were expected to reach have dropped from $6.50 a bushel to $5.35, and could drop to $5 per bushel.”

State tobacco acreage is expected to increase from 59,580 acres to 63,580 acres, despite a decline nationally in tobacco acreage, Gerloff said. Continued strong demand, reduced acreage in other states, and expectations for high per-acre yields mean a bright outlook for state tobacco farmers this year, Gerloff said.

”Despite its political woes, Tennessee farmers still see tobacco as a viable crop in terms of cash returns per acre,” Gerloff said.

Gerloff said Tennessee’s corn harvest is expected to be 690,000 acres — a 40,000-acre increase from last year — but state corn growers also are likely to experience price problems from oversupply.

The Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service reported Tennessee soybeans sold for $275 million in 1997, followed by tobacco receipts of $228 million, $223 million for cotton and $159 million for corn.