SYDNEY (Reuters) - A key part of Australia's eastern farmlands slipped further into drought in March but record crops were still expected if good rains fell soon, New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said on Sunday.
New South Wales, one of Australia's biggest agricultural states, was hit hardest by the country's worst drought in 100 years before rain began falling early this year.
The rain reduced the area of the state in drought to around 40 percent from 99 percent during the worst of the drought in 2002.
However, in the latest month the drought-affected area of the state rose by around 2 percentage points to 42.9 percent, Macdonald said.
Winter crop prospects were still good if farmers received autumn rain, he said.
"They are anxiously waiting for quite good rainfall across the state so they can get their winter crops in," Macdonald said of farmers.
"We anticipate there'll be a record amount of cropping put into the ground if we can get some decent autumn rain," he said on ABC radio.
Australia, one of the largest farm goods exporters in the world, largely to Asia, will begin to plant its winter wheat crop in around three week's time.
Normally the second-largest wheat exporter in the world, Australian wheat crops have been decimated in three of the last six years because of drought. This recently sent world wheat prices soaring to record highs.
Recent forecasts put Australia's 2008/09 wheat crop at between 26 million tonnes and a record-breaking 27 million tonnes. All forecasts are based on good rain falling soon.
(Reporting by Michael Byrnes, editing by Jacqueline Wong)