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Published November 09, 2011, 07:41 PM

USDA: Durum, spring wheat output even lower

Fallout from flooding cuts grain production
Earlier estimates had pegged the crop at its lowest levels since Eisenhower was president. The new numbers are even lower.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

The last of this year’s regular small grain production surveys by the government found even less spring wheat and durum produced in North Dakota than earlier lowered forecasts, according to a report released Wednesday, six weeks after harvest was completed.

For durum wheat and pasta eaters, especially, the numbers were even grimmer than earlier estimates that pegged the crop at its lowest levels since Eisenhower was president.

North Dakota grows most of the nation’s durum wheat, and most if it is grown in the northwest part of the state, which was hit worst by spring and early summer flooding that, again, was the worst in about 50 years.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers surveyed in September were re-surveyed in October to make sure of how many acres of wheat, durum, barley and oats were harvested and how many bushels came off the fields.

Stocks stand-off

After the regular June survey of plantings missed much of the wheat and durum acres either not planted or drowned out after planting, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service in Fargo re-surveyed farmers in late July on grain plantings. It found markedly lower numbers than the June survey and especially from the early spring intentions voiced by farmers.

USDA did it again last month to get the best harvest results, as did NASS offices in Montana, Idaho, Maine, Oregon and Washington.

It found North Dakota’s durum farmers harvested only 715,000 acres, 5,000 fewer than forecast in the Sept. 1 report and the lowest by far in decades. The 10-year average harvested acreage for durum was 1.85 million acres from 2000-2009.

Durum production in the state also was pegged lower Wednesday once again, down 487,500 bushels from the September estimate, to 18.2 million bushels, the lowest in more than 50 years. North Dakota’s durum farmers produced an average of 53 million bushels a year from 2000-2009.

That’s what the total national output of durum is estimated to be this year, slightly more than 50 million bushels, the lowest since 1988.

According to the North Dakota Wheat Commission, durum prices are so high that end users are turning to other wheats for parts of pasta-making, while farmers with durum are bullish enough to decline to sell at these prices.

So it’s a sort of stocks stand-off that’s been going on for months and is expected to continue, according to the Wheat Commission.

Price reports

Only a couple grain elevators in the daily Agweek survey of about 30 have been posting a price for durum recently at $10.65 a bushel on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, spring wheat production figures for North Dakota were pretty close to the September estimates: 5.5 million acres harvested, just as USDA projected two months ago, producing 168 million bushels, down 5.5 million from the September report. That production figure would be 28 percent lower than the state’s average spring wheat production of 234 million bushels a year from 2000-2009.

According to a daily survey done by Agweek magazine, prices offered for spring wheat at grain elevators in the region dropped Wednesday by an average of 9 cents a bushel from Tuesday’s prices, to $9.09 a bushel, which is twice the typical price seen before the increases the past three years.

Corn prices at elevators Wednesday averaged $6.13 a bushel, down from $6.19 on Tuesday. Soybean prices averaged $10.97 a bushel, down a full 20 cents from Tuesday.

Also in Wednesday’s small grains report: Barley production numbers remained unchanged from the September report but way below average: 350,000 acres harvested, yielding an average of 47 bushels an acre to total 16.5 million bushels.

That’s far from the 10-year average figures of 79.5 million bushels of barley produced each year from an average of 1.41 million acres harvested, averaging 56 bushels per acre, according to USDA records.

Prices offered for malting barley Wednesday at area elevators rose 25 cents a bushel to an average of $6.73 per bushel, according to Agweek.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send email to