Wichita — The government released a dismal forecast for the Kansas wheat crop Wednesday as unrelenting drought continued to take its toll despite sporadic rains.
The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service predicted Kansas farmers would harvest a 23 percent smaller wheat crop this year than last. They pegged the crop at 369 million bushels, based on wheat conditions as of May 1.
The agency cited dry conditions, noting subsoil moisture remained short in most of the western and north central parts of the state.
That forecast is far below last year's bountiful winter wheat crop -- when Kansas farmers brought in 480 million bushels in a year when few other crops prospered.
But the government forecast is slightly more generous than one made after the annual Kansas Wheat Quality Tour, which on April 29 predicted a harvest of 355 million bushels.
The estimates are "fairly significant" because wheat stocks are now low in spite of a near-record crop last year, said Brett Myers, executive vice president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.
"Any minor catastrophe in a wheat growing area of the world could have some effect" on prices and availability, Myers said.
Yields statewide were expected to average 41 bushels per acre, down from the average of 48 bushels per acre last year.
Nationwide, winter wheat production was estimated at 1.55 billion bushels, down 9 percent from 2003. The average yield for the nation was forecast at 44.2 bushels per acre, down 2.5 bushels from a year ago.
Despite expectations for a smaller crop, Kansas is predicted to remain the nation's biggest winter wheat producing state. It was followed by Oklahoma with 154.8 million bushels, Texas with 118.8 million bushels, Washington with 107.1 million bushels and Nebraska with 72.1 million bushels.