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Hopes for a bumper winter wheat crop are withering in parts of the state where hot temperatures and winds have stressed the growing crop, a farm group official said Monday.

"It's not doom and gloom," said Carl Mattson, the conservation and farm program associate for the Montana Grain Growers Association. But, he said, "this spring started out so beautiful, this is just a letdown from where we started."

Montana's branch of the National Agricultural Statistics Service rated 78 percent of the crop in fair to good condition for the week that ended Sunday; 9 percent was rated excellent. That compares with 73 percent a year ago, when 14 percent of the crop was rated excellent. The balance rated poor to very poor.

Eighty percent of the wheat was in boot stage last week, and 23 percent had headed. Both were well ahead of last year, the statistics service reported.

That level of progress, at this time of year, is an indication of heat stress, Mattson said, and means the crop is being pushed.

"And any time it's being pushed, you have a good chance of losing bushels at the same time," he said.

While farmers along the state's northern tier need a "major rain event to help things," those in other areas are in better shape, Mattson said. For example, winter wheat in the Kremlin area west of Havre looks promising, while in place like Carter, northeast of Great Falls, wheat fields are reported to look "beautiful," he said.

"By no means is the crop written off," Mattson said. But for farmers in stretches along that northern tier, "for the great start they had, the bumper end of the crop is probably pinched off."

Meanwhile, farmers were continuing with the last of their spring planting. The condition of the spring wheat wasn't as good as last year, while the statistics service reported durum starting off well, with 94 percent rated fair to good.

Topsoil moisture conditions for the week lagged behind last year's levels, while subsoil moisture levels were better, the agency stated in its weekly crop report.

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