Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON--The Agriculture Department Thursday forecast a record national cotton crop this year of 19.2 million bales, a yield that could bring relief to textile mills that have been shouldering higher raw cotton prices since December.
Domestic use of cotton is also expected to increase, with the agency predicting textile mills will use 11 million bales of raw cotton in the crop season that runs from Aug. 1, 1994, to July 31, 1995. If the forecasts come true, it would be the highest consumption since 1942, when mills used 11.1 million bales. One bale of cotton equals 480 pounds.
According to forecasts, this year's cotton crop will top the previous record of 18.9 million bales harvested in 1937. Until now, the second highest U.S. cotton crop on record was 17.6 million bales, in 1991. This year's cotton crop is forecast at 19 percent above last year's 16.2 million bales.
"As far as the textile mills are concerned, they should get some lower prices," said Jess Barr, economist with the National Cotton Council, although he declined to predict by how much.
Given a worldwide cotton shortage and the fact that last year's U.S. crop was slim, domestic mills have been paying top dollar for cotton, although prices have been declining lately from their July high of 74.9 cents per pound on the daily futures market.

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