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U.S. Winter-Wheat Crop Worsens as Dry Weather Curtails Growth

The condition of the U.S. winter-wheat crop declined for the third straight week, the government said, as rains missed the driest regions of the Great Plains, slowing plant germination and curtailing growth.

An estimated 34 percent of winter crop, the most-common domestic variety, was rated good or excellent as of yesterday, down from 36 percent a week earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. About 24 percent was in poor or very poor condition. A year earlier, 50 percent got the top ratings and 16 percent was in the bottom two categories.

The worst U.S. drought since 1956 has helped push wheat futures up 31 percent this year. About 78 percent of Kansas, the top winter-wheat grower, was in extreme or exceptional drought as of Nov. 13. Dry, warm weather the next two weeks will slow root development before plants go dormant for the winter, according to T-Storm Weather LLC in Chicago. The conditions have already cut output of the nation’s two biggest crops, corn and soybeans, sending prices to record highs.

“We have some germination issues, and dry weather the next two weeks won’t improve conditions,” Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Jefferies Bache LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview before the report. “The low crop ratings are a concern, but we’ve seen the wheat crop bounce back in the spring with improved rainfall.”

The winter-wheat crop goes dormant during the coldest months of the year and resumes growing in March.

Wheat is the fourth-biggest U.S. crop, valued last year at $14.4 billion, behind corn, soybeans and hay, government figures show.

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