Winter-Wheat Acreage in U.S. Rises From Lowest Since 1913 as Prices Rally

U.S. winter-wheat planting rebounded from the lowest level in almost a century as a jump in prices encouraged farmers to increase acreage.

About 40.990 million acres (16.6 million hectares) were seeded from September through November, up 9.8 percent from a year earlier when the planted area was the smallest since 1913, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. The average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News was for 40.787 million acres.

Wheat prices surged 47 percent in 2010, reaching a two-year high in August, after drought slashed crops in Russia and spurred the country to ban exports. Dry weather also accelerated the U.S. corn and soybean harvests, allowing farmers to seed wheat sooner than the previous year, said Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Prudential Bache Commodities LLC.

The weather “was almost the complete opposite of the previous season, when we battled wet conditions that slowed the row-crop harvest and cut plantings of some winter wheat,” McCambridge said from Chicago. This season, “attractive prices had farmers willingly switching back over to wheat,” he said.

Today’s report was released before the start of regular trading on the Chicago Board of Trade. Yesterday, wheat futures for March delivery fell 7.75 cents, or 1 percent, to settle at $7.595 a bushel.

Growers planted 29.6 million acres with hard-red wheat, up 4 percent from a year earlier, and 7.76 million acres with soft-red varieties, up 47 percent, the USDA said. White-wheat acreage was 3.66 million, up 4 percent.

Wheat Supplies

In a separate report, the USDA said unsold U.S. reserves of all varieties of wheat on Dec. 1 totaled 1.928 billion bushels, up 8.2 percent from 1.782 billion a year earlier. Analysts in a Bloomberg News survey expected 1.939 billion.

World inventories at the end of this marketing year on May 31 may total 177.99 million metric tons, the USDA said, up from a December estimate of 176.72 million. Analysts expected global stockpiles of 175.23 million tons.

The USDA lowered its estimate for unsold U.S. supplies at the end of the marketing year to 818 million bushels, from 858 million forecast in December. Analysts expected stockpiles of 847.1 million.

Hard-red winter wheat is seeded in the southern Great Plains and used to make bread and pasta. The soft-red variety, grown in the eastern Midwest, is used to make cookies and cakes. White wheat is grown in the Pacific Northwest and used to make bread and noodles.

Wheat is the fourth-biggest U.S. crop, valued at $16.6 billion in 2008, behind corn, soybeans and hay, government data show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Whitney McFerron in Chicago at wmcferron1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net.

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