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Published October 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

USDA reports record North Dakota wheat yield

North Dakota wheat farmers have harvested one of their biggest crops ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

By: Jon Knutson, INFORUM

North Dakota wheat farmers have harvested one of their biggest crops ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

“We had nearly ideal growing conditions this summer,” said Erica Olson, marketing specialist with the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

The state’s wheat harvest, which is just wrapping up, was pegged at 379 million bushels, up from 311 million bushels last year.

State farmers will enjoy a record average yield of 44.2 bushels per acre, up from 36 bushels per acre last year, the USDA said.

However, this year’s wheat has lower protein content, which makes it less valuable. That offsets much or even all of the benefit from the higher yield.

The former record average yield in North Dakota was 41.1 bushels per acre in 1992.

That year also saw record state wheat production of 470 million bushels. Since 1992, wheat acres have fallen, with farmers planting more corn and soybeans.

The USDA will release its harvest estimates for corn and soybeans Oct. 9.

Wheat remains the region’s most important crop. It’s grown throughout North Dakota and western Minnesota.

North Dakota and Kansas take turns leading the nation in wheat production. Kansas farmers are expected to harvest about 370 bushels this year, slightly less than North Dakota’s projected harvest.

The record yield for North Dakota wheat comes despite a wet spring that delayed planting. That threatened to expose wheat – a crop that doesn’t fare well in heat – to hot weather in late July and August.

But the cool summer allowed wheat to overcome late planting, Olson said.

Farmers across the state also benefited from adequate moisture, said Bruce Hagen, a farmer in Ayr in western Cass County.

“It wasn’t just farmers in eastern North Dakota that had moisture this year,” he said.

Minnesota’s wheat production is pegged at 86 million bushels.

That’s considered a good crop, although it falls short of the 104 million bushels harvested last year.

Barley also fared well in North Dakota this summer.

The USDA pegged the average barley yield in the state this year at 70 bushels per acre, up from 56 bushels per acre in 2008 and the former record of 65 bushels per acre in 1992.

North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of barley, which primarily is used in beer or fed to cattle.

The crop is grown predominantly in central and western North Dakota.

Barley farmers in the western part of the state enjoyed good moisture this year, unlike in 2008, said Steve Edwardson, executive administrator of the North Dakota Barley Council.

But the late spring led farmers to plant less barley this year, causing 2009 production to fell to 80 million bushels from 86 million bushels last year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530