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.

Soft red winter

Soft red winter (SRW) plantings increased significantly from 2009/10 when heavy rainfall and a delayed row crop harvest led to record low acreage. At an estimated 8.2 million acres, SRW plantings are up 55 percent from a year ago. Estimated SRW acreage in Illinois more than doubled from last year, from 330,000 acres to 760,000 acres. Missouri SRW plantings increased from 370,000 acres last year to 830,000 acres for the 2011/12 crop.

Hard red winter (HRW) planted area, while higher than last year’s 28.6 million acres, came in slightly lower than USDA’s January estimate. USDA reported HRW plantings at 29.4 million acres, down 0.2 million acres from January. USDA decreased its acreage estimates for last year’s second and third largest HRW producers, Texas and Oklahoma.

USDA estimated Texas HRW acreage at 5.65 million acres, down 100,000 acres from January, while Oklahoma’s projected acreage fell from 5.4 million acres in January to 5.2 million acres.

Kody Bessent of the Texas Wheat Producers Association said the Texas panhandle south through the southern plains has not received any showers since October. He warned that if poor conditions persist producers could switch from wheat to cotton this May, leading to a further decline in acreage.

Currently, 62 percent of the Texas HRW crop is rated in either poor or very poor condition, compared to eight percent a year ago.

USDA reported increased acreage for the Pacific Northwest states where the majority of soft white (SW) wheat is produced. Washington state wheat plantings increased by five percent, to 2.5 million acres. Idaho and Oregon also planted more wheat, up by six percent and three percent respectively, to 1.5 and 1 million acres.

Read USDA’s Prospective Plantings report online at: http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/pspl0311.pdf.