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Weather woes spur decrease for wheat harvest

Spring rains, summer heat lead to a smaller wheat crop this year.

CHICAGO -- The U.S. wheat harvest will be 9 percent smaller than last year, the government said Friday, after heavy rains delayed planting of spring crops in the northern Great Plains and hot weather in July and August reduced yields.

Production of all wheat varieties in the marketing year that began June 1 will total 2.008 billion bushels, the Department of Agriculture said in a report. That's down from 2.207 billion harvested last year and 2.077 billion estimated by the government on Sept. 12. The average estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was 2.04 billion bushels.

The harvest of spring wheat, a variety used to make bread grown from Minnesota to Washington, will total 462 million bushels, the department said, down from an August estimate of 522 million and 616 million produced last year. Areas of North Dakota, the biggest grower, South Dakota and Montana had triple the normal amount of rainfall during planting in May and June, National Weather Service data show.

"Even though the crop probably dodged the greatest amount of damage that could have happened, the weather conditions did take the top off the production potential," said Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Jefferies Bache Commodities in a telephone interview from Chicago.

Hot, dry weather in late July and early August hurt yields, and fields in some regions suffered from diseases including fusarium head blight and wheat rust, Erica Olson, a marketing specialist with the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said by tele- phone from Fargo.

"Because of the wet spring, the crops didn't have to root down very far to get moisture, so when it did get dry later on, that stressed the crop," Olson said. Disease pressure "was sporadic around the state, but maybe a bit more toward the northern parts."

Growers produced 780 million bushels of hard, red winter wheat, the variety grown in the Great Plains, down 1.8 percent from the August forecast, the USDA said. Soft, red winter wheat production totaled 458 million bushels and the durum harvest was pegged at 51.9 million.

Wheat inventories on Sept. 1 were 12 percent lower than a year earlier at 2.15 billion bushels, according to a separate report. Nineteen analysts expected reserves of 2.071 billion bushels, on average. Declining U.S. stockpiles may imply that livestock producers have increased use of wheat in feed as an alternative to high- priced corn, Jefferies' McCambridge said.