Northern US flooding may cut wheat crop, boost soy

Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:34pm EDT
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FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - North Dakota and Minnesota girded for the worst flooding in years, which could prompt farmers to cut spring wheat plantings by as much as 500,000 acres in the four main wheat-producing U.S. states.

Fargo, N.D. was expecting a 41-foot crest on the Red River by Saturday that would break a 112-year-old record.

Farmers still able to seed a crop will look hard at soybeans, which can be planted as late as early June, experts said.

"This isn't good news for wheat," Joel Ransom, an agronomist in cereal crops at North Dakota State University, said over the phone as he heaved sandbags onto a dike at the Red River in Fargo.

Due to lower wheat prices, the North Dakota Wheat Commission already was expecting wheat plantings from North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota to drop sharply to 12.3 million acres from 12.8 million last year.

That spring wheat reduction may now double, with another 500,000 former wheat acres planted instead with later-seeding crops like soybeans, sunflowers and dry beans, or not planted at all, said Jim Peterson, marketing director of the farmer-run commission.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has predicted that at least 1 million acres in North Dakota will go unseeded this spring.

"Producers want to grow a crop, that's how they generate their income, but if you just perpetually get stuck all the time or you mud a crop in ... it's like playing in the mud when you're a kid," Peterson said. "It gets hard and packed and pretty poor (for) germination."

Losing 500,000 wheat acres to flood and crop switches is a realistic estimate, said Rob Proulx, an agronomy lecturer at University of Minnesota in Crookston, Minn. near the east bank of the Red River.   Continued...

<p>Carl Aakre (C) and Michael Heinecke (blue hat), volunteers from Perham, Minnesota, throw sand bags into the back of a truck for distribution to flood victims' houses at a bagging station in Fargo, North Dakota, March 26, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Miller</p>