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Fewer spring wheat acres planned

Fewer spring wheat acres planned

Farmers in the state are planning to plant their fewest wheat acres since 1991, with spring wheat and durum expectations lower than last year amid concerns about soil moisture, the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service said Thursday.

Producers expect to plant 2.6 million spring wheat acres, down from last year's 3 million acres and, if it holds, the lowest planted acreage since 1991, the agency said. They also plan to plant 560,000 durum acres, compared to the 570,000 acres in 2004. The figures are based on surveys of farmers.

Favorable fall planting conditions helped buoy winter wheat acreage, which, at 2.15 million acres, is the largest seeded acreage since 1996, the agency said. Last year, farmers planted 1.9 million acres.

Still, if the planting predictions hold, total wheat acreage planted would be the lowest since farmers planted 5.13 million acres in 1991, according to the agency. Producers plan to plant 5.31 million total wheat acres this year, down from 5.47 million acres last year.

Director Peggy Stringer said changes in weather conditions could move the figures either way and that farmers are hoping for the best.

Drought has taken a toll on much of the state the past few years, and, while recent snow and rain in parts of Montana helped alleviate dry conditions, "that really was just one storm," she said. "It's not going to do a lot."

The statistics service this week said that topsoil moisture conditions for March were 55 percent short to very short. Subsoil moisture conditions were 86 percent short to very short.

Expectations for oats, sugar beets and barley are also lower. Farmers plan to plant about 950,000 acres of barley, down from 1 million acres last year for what would be the lowest planted acreage since 1953, according to the agency.

Barley acreage also is expected to be lower in Wyoming, where farmers plan to plant 85,000 acres, according to the Wyoming Statistical Office. Winter wheat acreage is up, oats acreage is expected to be, and spring wheat acreage, planned at 10,000 acres, would be the same as last year.

"It's looking a lot better than the last few years, the planting picture anyway," said Vito Wagner, an agricultural statistician with the office. Soil moisture and the availability of irrigation water remain big questions, he added.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly tracker of drought conditions, showed varying degrees of drought across Montana and most of Wyoming. Exceptional drought extends across much of northern Wyoming and into southeast Montana.

Nationwide, farmers expect to plant 58.6 million total wheat acres, down from 59.7 million a year ago. It would be the lowest seeded acreage since 1972, the statistics service said.

U.S. barley growers also expect to plant fewer acres, and the 3.97 million acres planned would be the smallest since estimates began in 1926. Planned acreage is down from last year in the country's four largest barley producing states, with Minnesota the lone state in the top 10 to have higher planting intentions, the agency said.

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