U.S. spring wheat yield prospects best in 22 years

Fargo, North Dakota/Reuters — The 2014 U.S. hard red spring wheat crop was projected to yield 48.6 bushels per acre, scouts on an annual crop tour said Thursday, the tour’s highest forecast in at least 22 years.

The estimate was based on samples from 373 spring wheat fields assessed during the Wheat Quality Council’s three-day tour of North Dakota, the top spring wheat state, and adjacent areas in Minnesota and South Dakota. The figure exceeds the tour’s 2013 forecast of 44.9 bushels per acre and its five-year average of 44.7.

The tour projected an average durum wheat yield of 36.6 bushels per acre, based on samples of 17 fields. The durum figure was down from 41.7 last year and below the five-year tour average of 38.1.

The spring wheat yield estimate is the highest in Wheat Quality Council records dating to 1992. The figure surpasses the previous tour record of 47.0 set in 1992, according to the group’s website.

Scouts cautioned that the current crop was at least four to six weeks from harvest.

“A lot of things could happen between now and then, and most of them are not good. But if it just keeps going, we could have a tremendous crop,” said tour leader Ben Handcock, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council.

Much of the crop was developing later than usual due to planting delays in the spring, although growing conditions since then have been ideal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said 79 percent of North Dakota’s spring wheat had reached the heading phase by July 20, behind the five-year average of 83 percent.

“Some of that late, late stuff has a ways to go,” said Mark Weber, director of the Northern Crops Institute and a scout on the tour, adding, “A lot can happen.”

Potential threats include a hot and dry August that could limit grain fill and an early frost that could kill crops that have not reached maturity. Some late-planted wheat could get snowed on before it is harvested, Handcock said.

North Dakota is the largest producer of high-quality hard red spring wheat, which is used in bread and for blending, and durum wheat, which is used to make pasta.

Spring wheat prospects became more significant after drought in the southern Plains curtailed this year’s harvest of hard red winter wheat, the largest U.S. wheat class, which is also used for bread.

The USDA projects 2014 production of hard red spring wheat at 520 million bushels, up 30 million bushels from 2013. The USDA sees U.S. all-wheat production at 1.992 billion bushels.

MGEX spring wheat futures for September delivery settled down 1-1/4 cents at $6.19-3/4 a bushel on Thursday, down about 1.7 percent so far this week.

USDA estimates the North Dakota spring wheat yield at 46 bushels per acre. The government is scheduled to release updated forecasts on Aug. 12.

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