FARGO, N.D. (Reuters) - Scouts on an annual crop tour of North Dakota, the top U.S. spring wheat producer, found below-average yield potential in this year’s crop, in contrast to a government forecast for a record-tying yield.
The Wheat Quality Council’s three-day tour of North Dakota and adjacent areas in Minnesota and South Dakota projected an average spring wheat yield of 41.1 bushels per acre (bpa), up from the tour’s forecast of 38.1 bpa in 2017 but below its prior five-year average of 45.4 bpa.
Hard red spring wheat, a high-quality grain used to make artisanal breads, pizza dough and bagels, represents roughly a quarter of total U.S. wheat output. The grain is often blended with lesser grades of wheat to improve flour quality.
High-quality milling wheat is in demand globally following a reduced U.S. winter crop and as dry weather cut into yield potential for the grain in Europe and Russia.
The tour’s forecast for a sub-par crop contrasted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s July 12 projection for North Dakota’s 2018 spring wheat yield to reach 48.0 bpa, which would match a state record set in 2015.
“I’m a little bit disappointed. Pretty much the bias among growers and the grain industry was that it was going to be a little bit better (crop) than last year, possibly a lot better,” said Dennis Haugen, a farmer from Hannaford, North Dakota, who participated on the tour.
Scouts cited hot weather as a likely factor in curbing yield potential.
“We had a lot of heat in June. Wheat is a cool-season crop, and it doesn’t like that,” Haugen said.
Spring wheat is prized by millers and bakers for its high protein content, and wheat experts were cautiously optimistic about the current crop’s protein potential.
“Given that we had some of those warmer temperatures, the assumption is always there that it (protein) will be higher. But we have had surprises before,” said Erica Olson of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.
The tour also projected an average yield for durum wheat, which is used to make pasta, of 39.3 bpa, down from 39.7 last year and the tour’s five-year average of 40.5 bpa. The figure was based on samples of 17 durum wheat fields.
Tour scouts sampled 342 fields overall, including 325 hard red spring wheat fields.
Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Tom Brown