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Published November 11, 2009, 09:20 AM

U.S. crop estimates may ease fears about wet harvest

Newly released estimates for U.S. wheat, corn and soybean crops may put to rest fears that a wet harvest season in many parts of the country could cut into production.

By: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

BISMARCK — Newly released estimates for U.S. wheat, corn and soybean crops may put to rest fears that a wet harvest season in many parts of the country could cut into production.

Late-season rains had delayed harvest of small grains in many areas, raising concerns about whether farmers' record crops might die in the fields. But U.S. Department of Agriculture crop estimates released Tuesday show little change over the past month, and analysts now expect little — if any — changes in prices for either farmers or consumers.

The crop estimates "came mostly within expectations," said John Sanow, an analyst with the Omaha, Neb.-based market information company DTN.

Estimated U.S. spring wheat production is down less than 1 percent from the Sept. 30 estimate and durum wheat production is down 1 percent. Total production of all types of wheat is virtually unchanged, at 2.22 billion bushels.

U.S. production of both oats and barley also is almost unchanged from September, and the new figures for corn and soybeans vary only slightly from the Oct. 9 report.

The late September small grains summary, based on farmer surveys, usually is USDA's final word on production. This year, the agency took the uncommon step of re-contacting farmers in Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming in late October because wet weather during the initial survey period in September had significantly delayed harvest in some areas. That meant many farmers had to guess at how much of their crop they would be able to harvest.

The slight decreases in wheat production are due largely to a drop in harvested acres of both spring wheat and durum in North Dakota, which leads the nation in production of the grains used for bread products and pasta, respectively. But North Dakota farmers still produced their third-largest spring wheat crop in history, at 290 million bushels.

Yields for both spring wheat and durum set records in North Dakota, and some in the industry expected them to come in even higher, said Jim Peterson, marketing director for the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

Fields "saw the results of a cool summer which was ideal for cereal grain yield potential," said Larry Neubauer, who farms near Bottineau in north central North Dakota and serves as president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association.

Market prices already have dropped a couple of dollars per bushel this fall, to the $4-$5 range at elevators, because of the expected large wheat crop, increased competition overseas and a slackening in worldwide demand due in large part to the global recession.

Sanow said he does not expect Tuesday's report to further influence prices. "How much more bearish can it get?" he said.

Sanow said the situation is similar for corn, with huge supplies and slipping demand, which might lead to decreased prices. However, he said wet weather that has left two-thirds of the U.S. corn harvest still in the fields might cut into production.

In the USDA's regular monthly report Tuesday, it estimated the U.S. corn crop at 12.9 billion bushels, down 1 percent from the October estimate but 7 percent higher than last year and the second-largest crop on record.

The department pegged the soybean crop at a record 3.32 billion bushels, up 2 percent from the October forecast and up 12 percent over the year.

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On the Net:

U.S. Department of Agriculture: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome

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