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Published August 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Spring wheat outlook improves in North Dakota

BISMARCK – The outlook for North Dakota’s wheat has improved dramatically over the past month, with cool weather and timely rain. The state could see its highest spring wheat production in more than a decade.

By: By Blake Nicholson, INFORUM

BISMARCK – The outlook for North Dakota’s wheat has improved dramatically over the past month, with cool weather and timely rain. The state could see its highest spring wheat production in more than a decade.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Wednesday that production of spring wheat in North Dakota will be up 4 percent from last year to 256 million bushels. Last month, the agency projected a crop 6 percent smaller than last year’s.

If the new forecast holds true, it would be the highest North Dakota production in 13 years.

Durum wheat numbers show a similar turnaround. The projection now is for a North Dakota crop of 55.4 million bushels, up 31 percent from last year. In July, the USDA predicted a crop about the same size as in 2008.

North Dakota leads the nation in the production of both types of wheat. Spring wheat is used for such mainstay foods as bread. Durum wheat is the main ingredient in pasta.

Jim Peterson, the marketing director for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said a cool growing season and rain at the key times are the main reasons for the jump in production estimates, though the durum outlook might be “overstated a little bit when you look at the moisture situation.”

Larry Neubauer, the president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association, said he also wondered if the USDA numbers would play out.

“I think that the yield is still up for grabs because a lot of places are dry or drying out,” he said.

USDA is forecasting an average durum yield in North Dakota of 34 bushels per acre, up eight bushels from the July projection and nine bushels higher than last year. Peterson said a 34-bushel yield would be near the North Dakota record of 38 bushels in 1992.

Neubauer said durum yields on his farm near Bottineau in north-central North Dakota could be as high as 35 bushels per acre – or as low as 25 bushels.

“We’ve been under moisture stress here for the last three weeks,” he said before heading out on his combine.

The latest estimate from the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in North Dakota shows only 1 percent of both the spring wheat and durum crops harvested, at least two weeks behind average. Wet weather delayed planting.

The cool conditions have helped stave off widespread problems with disease, but frost could be a risk if the harvest is prolonged, Peterson said.

Market prices have dropped over the month in anticipation of the increase in wheat production estimates. Spring wheat and durum prices at elevators have fallen to the level of about $5 per bushel, down more than $2.

“A lot of producers are frustrated with the drop in value since June (but) it does appear that a lot of producers will have pretty decent crops to offset that to some degree,” Peterson said.

Nationally, spring wheat production is forecast at 548 million bushels, up slightly from 2008. The durum wheat crop is pegged at 98 million bushels, up 15 percent.

In North Dakota, USDA also projects increases in winter wheat, oats, soybeans, sugar beets and alfalfa hay this year. Barley, corn and dry edible bean crops are likely to be smaller.


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