Montana's small grains harvest down this year after wet weather reduced acreage, diseases hurt yields and quality, USDA says; durum output down 35% from 2010, barley down 19%, winter wheat down 4%

GREAT FALLS, Montana , October 3, 2011 () – Montana's small grains harvest is down this year after wet weather reduced the number of acres planted and caused diseases that damaged yields and hurt quality, federal agricultural officials said.

The U.S. Agricultural Statistics Service says its preliminary surveys show Montana durum production was down 35 percent, barley was down 19 percent and winter wheat was down 4 percent from 2010.

Montana producers planted 2.45 million acres of spring wheat this year, compared with 2.85 million last year. Durum, also a spring crop, was planted on 4 million acres, down from 5.4 million acres in 2010.

Spring wheat yields were 32 bushels an acre, down from 38 a year ago, while durum yields fell from 34 bushels an acre to 30.

"Granted, last year was a record year," said Steve Anderson, director of the Montana office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The number of acres of winter wheat seeded was higher, but production was offset by yields that fell from 48 bushels per acre to 41.

"It's still a very respectable yield at 41 bushels per acre," Anderson said.

Montana farmers also planted fewer acres of barley and saw reduced yields.

The Ag Statistics Service said the quality of Montana's wheat crop also fell in tests that determine baking quality and wet conditions during the growing season also brought diseases that many farmers were unaccustomed to, said Lola Raska, executive vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

"There was a big learning curve about what to apply and what effect it could have on the crop," she said.

Grain prices are still high, but drought conditions in Texas and Oklahoma produced higher protein levels in those areas in the crops that were harvested. That means high protein premiums typically paid for Montana grain is not there this year, Raska said.

Farmers who have seeded winter wheat are also facing difficult conditions, Raska said.

"There are reports of people seeding early, that crop coming up and then dying in the ground because it is too dry," she said.

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