The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Prospective Plantings report pegged 2011 U.S. wheat plantings at 58.0 million acres, an eight percent increase over last year’s 53.6 million acres.

The forecast was one million acres more than USDA’s projection presented at its 2011 Outlook Forum in January and exceeded average trade estimates of 57.3 million acres.

Spring wheat planted area, which USDA estimated at 14.4 million acres, exceeded trade estimates of 13.7 million acres and would be five percent greater than 2010 plantings. Of this total, hard red spring (HRS) accounted for 13.6 million acres, up from 13 million acres a year ago.

USDA noted that this year’s high protein premiums will likely encourage farmers to plant more HRS.

USDA estimated an increase of nearly 11 percent, to 7.1 million acres, for the largest HRS producer, North Dakota, while projecting durum acreage for the state to fall from 1.8 to 1.6 million acres. Durum was the only wheat class with a decline in acreage from last year. USDA projected durum acreage at 2.4 million acres, an eight percent decline from 2010 and below trade expectations of 2.6 million acres.

Estimated winter wheat plantings of 41.2 million acres are up 10 percent from 2010 and 239,000 acres greater than USDA’s January estimate.