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Published June 11, 2009, 06:27 AM

Winter wheat bushels down

North Dakota farmers are expected to harvest 21.6 million bushels of winter wheat this year, down from last year but still a respectable crop in a state where spring wheat is king.

By: By Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun

BISMARCK — North Dakota farmers are expected to harvest 21.6 million bushels of winter wheat this year, down from last year but still a respectable crop in a state where spring wheat is king.

The latest federal Agriculture Department projection for the state, released Wednesday, is down 4 percent from last year and from the May 1 forecast.

Acres for harvest, at 490,000, remained unchanged over the month — an indication spring flooding caused no major damage — but the estimated average yield dropped 2 bushels per acre, from 46 bushels to 44 bushels.

Jim Peterson, marketing director for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said that despite the spring flooding problems throughout North Dakota, some winter wheat-growing areas were dry in May.

“May is the month where winter wheat is starting to take off and grow,” he said.

Winter wheat is seeded in the fall. The plants go dormant over the winter, then emerge in the spring.

The crop has become more popular in North Dakota in recent years not only because of good yields and prices, but also because it saves farmers time during the busy spring planting season. It still lags behind the state’s spring wheat crop, estimated last year at 246 million bushels.

Ducks Unlimited also has started programs that reward farmers for planting winter wheat. Since it is not seeded in the spring, it means less field disturbance when ducks are nesting.

If the USDA projections hold true, this year’s winter wheat crop in North Dakota would be the third straight above 21 million bushels. Production during the previous 20 years averaged only 4.4 million bushels per year, according to a study of federal data.

This year’s average winter wheat yield in North Dakota also is expected to be 3 bushels higher than last year, when some farmers like Jerry Blotter of Coleharbor plowed under much of their winter wheat crop because of dry weather. Blotter said he has “ample” moisture this year and expects a good crop.

Nationally, USDA projects winter wheat production at 1.5 billion bushels, down 20 percent from 2008.

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