North Dakota spring wheat prospects below average

BISMARCK, North Dakota, July 24 (Reuters) – Yield prospects for hard red spring wheat in the southern half of North Dakota are better than a year ago, when the state was hit by drought, but below average, scouts on an annual crop tour said Tuesday.

North Dakota is the biggest U.S. producer of hard red spring wheat, a high-quality grain used to make artisanal breads, pizza dough and bagels. Spring wheat, representing about a quarter of total U.S. wheat output, is also blended with lesser grades of wheat to improve flour quality.

Higher-quality grain is in demand following a reduced U.S. winter wheat crop and as dry weather cut into yield potential for wheat in Europe and Russia.

The Wheat Quality Council scouts calculated an average yield for hard red spring wheat fields in southern North Dakota and adjacent areas of South Dakota at 38.9 bushels per acres (bpa) on the first day of a three-day crop tour. The figure was above the 2017 tour’s first-day yield of 37.9 bpa but fell below the five-year average of 44.7 bpa.

The tour’s findings contrasted with the latest forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has projected North Dakota’s spring wheat yield at a record-tying 48.0 bpa.

In a weekly crop progress report on Monday, the USDA rated 88 percent of North Dakota’s spring wheat as good to excellent, up from 83 percent the previous week.

“The crop was more variable than we expected, and that caught me off guard,” said Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, which runs the tour.

Bouts of hot weather may have curbed yield potential.

“We’ve certainly had some heat stress,” North Dakota State University extension agronomist Joel Ransom told tour scouts on Monday, although he noted that the state has also received timely moisture.

Scouts on the tour sampled 138 wheat fields overall on Tuesday, including 135 hard red spring wheat fields and three durum wheat fields.

Fifty-four “crop scouts” from the milling and baking industries, along with government and university experts, are on the tour, which is scheduled to release final yield forecasts on Thursday.

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