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The 2010 winter wheat harvest is under way. Wheat and flour buyers were hopeful, despite a production forecast 4% below last year’s outturn, this year’s crop would provide improved quality in the case of soft red winter wheat and higher protein in the case of the hard winter wheat crop.

The Texas harvest was 2% completed by May 23 compared with 4% as the recent five-year average for the date, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly Crop Progress report. The Texas harvest expanded northward last week, and the Fort Worth Grain Exchange received its first new crop samples. As of May 28, the exchange received 92 new crop carlot samples. The average test weight of the samples was a strong 62.97 lbs per bu with no sample having a test weight below 61.6 lbs per bu. The minimum required for hard winter wheat to grade No. 1 is 60 lbs per bu. Protein content ranged from 8.4% to 14.4% and averaged 11.59%. It was not unusual for the early Texas harvest to range widely in protein, but a market starved for protein after two consecutive years of low average protein could not help but to be a bit disappointed with the average to date. Moisture content averaged 12.9% reflecting the effects of a relatively wet spring for southern Texas. Dockage averaged 0.68%.

The soft winter wheat harvest expanded across certain southern states but was running a week or more behind the average pace for most of the region. The Georgia winter wheat harvest was 8% completed by May 23 compared with 10% as the recent five-year average for the date. Indications were early new crop samples were sound in quality compared with widespread problems with subpar falling number that afflicted last year’s outturn. The Louisiana harvest was 9% completed on May 23 compared with the recent five-year average of 36%. Combining was expected to get under way in Alabama during the Memorial Day weekend.

The Arizona durum harvest began last week in the area around Yuma, and the winter wheat and durum harvests expanded in California. With old crop durum supplies ample in both the United States and Canada and no problems evident in seeding new crop durum across the northern Plains and the Canadian Prairie provinces, desert durum produced in excess of typical regional mill demand and exports seemed destined for feed.

The U.S.D.A. projected hard red winter wheat production this year at 960.4 million bus, up nearly 5% from 919 million bus in 2009, but soft red winter wheat production was projected at just 283.5 million bus, down 30% from 403.6 million bus last year. The soft red winter wheat crop was forecast to be the smallest since 1978.