SYDNEY - An ongoing drought has caused Australia's summer crop production over the year to June 2007 to fall 62 pct from the previous summer season, while the winter crop output is also forecast to drop 60 pct, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) said.

The government agency said most of the main growing areas in southern Queensland, northern New South Wales and the Riverina remain in the grip of the drought, with production forecast to fall to around 1.9 mln metric tons, making it the smallest summer crop in over 20 years.

ABARE director Phillip Glyde said severe ongoing drought conditions throughout the major cropping areas of Australia, particularly since August 2006, have resulted in the lowest water storage levels on record.

He said the very dry spring and lack of irrigation water caused the total summer crop area to be cut in half to 743 000 hectares.

Glyde noted the total area planted to grain sorghum is estimated to be at 427 000 hectares in 2006-07, less than half the area sown the year earlier while forecast grain sorghum production of around 996,000 tons is less than half of that produced in the year earlier season.

He said the lack of irrigation water for rice growing in 2006-2007 has resulted in the area planted plunging to 12,000 hectares, or nearly 90 pct below the area planted the year earlier. Rice production is also forecast to be down 90 pct to around 106,000 tons.

Cotton production has been limited to an estimated 143,000 hectares for the current season which is 57 pct below that planted in the previous season - the smallest area since 1983-1984. Production of cotton lint is forecast to be down 58 pct to around 250,000 tons.

'Reflecting one of the driest winter cropping seasons on record, winter crop production in 2006-2007 is estimated to have fallen by more than 60 pct to 15.7 mln tons,' Glyde said.

Wheat production is estimated to have fallen by 61 pct from the prior season to 9.8 mln tons, barley output is seen down 62 pct at 3.7 mln tons and canola production is estimated to be down 64 pct at 513,000 tons.