(Adds quotes, USDA planting and acreage data)
By Mark Weinraub
FARGO, N.D., July 25 (Reuters) - Scouts on an annual crop tour projected harvest yields for the 2019 U.S. hard red spring wheat crop at 43.1 bushels per acre (bpa), up from the tour’s 2018 projection of 41.1 bpa but below its five-year average of 44.7.
Scouts on the Wheat Quality Council’s three-day tour surveyed 356 spring wheat fields in North Dakota, the top spring wheat production state, and parts of Minnesota.
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.
Seeding of this year’s crop got off to a slow start. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported North Dakota’s spring wheat planting progress at 37% as of May 12, well behind the state’s five-year average of 58% for that time of year.
Wheat that was seeded on time struggled with cool weather and muddy soils throughout early stages of development, scouts on this week’s tour said.
But late-planted crops face a higher risk of being damaged by an early frost.
“The wheat that was planted late has the most potential but it also has the most risk,” said Brian Walker, technical services director at Miller Milling in Minneapolis, who was on the tour.
This year’s crop “is late, so it has got room to get better or worse as the weather determines,” said Dave Green, the Wheat Quality Council’s executive vice president and leader of the tour.
The crop was healthier than expected, given that rainy weather during the spring had raised concerns about disease, Green added. Overall disease pressure was light, although scouts noted some instances of scab and stem maggot.
The tour also projected an average yield for durum wheat, which is used to make pasta, at 32.0 bushels per acre, below the tour’s five-year average of 40.0 bpa and the 2018 projection of 39.3 bpa. The tour’s figure was based on surveys of 15 durum fields.
North Dakota farmers planted only 700,000 acres of durum wheat in 2019, the USDA said, a record low. (Reporting by Mark Weinraub in Fargo; editing by Jonathan Oatis)