MINOT, North Dakota (Reuters) - Spring wheat crops in central and northwestern North Dakota were showing the effects of hot, dry conditions and yield prospects were down sharply from a year ago, scouts on an annual crop tour said Wednesday.
"The early-planted stuff looks the toughest," said Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, which runs the tour.
Prospects were slightly better for later-planted wheat and crops in northern areas could still benefit from moisture, with harvest still a few weeks away.
"The best scenario is to keep the temperatures from being too extreme," Green said.
Scouts in one car of the Wheat Quality Council tour traveling through Burleigh, McLean and Ward counties in west-central North Dakota scouted five spring wheat fields and calculated an average yield of 21.3 bushels per acre (bpa). A year ago, two cars traveling the same route calculated average yields of 61.8 and 52.7 bpa.
A second car scouting fields in central North Dakota, including Burleigh, McLean and Sheridan counties, calculated an average yield of 35.8 bpa for six spring wheat fields. Last year, two cars traveling that route calculated average yields of 52.1 and 41.5 bpa.
Scouts in a third car traveling in northwest North Dakota scouted three spring wheat fields and calculated an average yield of 27 bpa, and five durum fields with an average yield of 23.4 bpa. The fields were in McLean, Ward, Mountrail and Burke counties.
Two cars on that same northwestern route a year ago calculated the average spring wheat yield at 37.2 and 52.5 bpa, and the average durum yield at 45.4 and 52.7 bpa.
About 70 crop scouts from the milling and baking industries along with government and university experts are on the tour, which is scheduled to release final yield forecasts on Thursday.
Scouts sampled 194 hard red spring wheat fields across the southern half of North Dakota on Tuesday and calculated an average yield of 37.9 bpa.
Spring wheat plants, which have the high protein content needed to bake bread, have shriveled in the United States, one of the world's top exporters, creating a rare tight spot in a world awash with lesser grades of grain.
(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; editing by Grant McCool)