SYDNEY — The news that severe drought conditions could contribute to Australia’s lowest level of wool production in 50 years has driven up prices sharply in Australian wool auctions.

Following the Sept. 23 release of Australian Wool Innovation’s latest production forecast — which predicted an 11 percent decline in shorn-wool production to 495 million kilograms of greasy wool for the 2002-2003 season, potentially the lowest production level since the 1950-51 production year — buyers scrambling to secure stocks pushed the Australian Eastern Market Indicator benchmark index up Australian $1.62 last week, or 17 percent, its largest week-on-week price increase on record. It closed at $11.41 per kilogram of clean wool.

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