Northern Kansas wheat yields above average after April showers

Winter wheat yields in northern Kansas are likely to be better than average as recent rains have boosted crop prospects following excessively dry weather earlier in the year, crop scouts on an annual crop tour said on Tuesday.

However, the rains, which broke April records in some areas of the country's top winter wheat state, have also raised the threat of some yield-sapping diseases such as the stripe rust that was detected in some fields surveyed by crop scouts.

More than 80 crop scouts are traveling from Manhattan to Colby, Kansas, on the first day of the Wheat Quality Council's annual three-day tour. The tour is scheduled to release a final Kansas wheat yield forecast on Thursday.

"Wheat was clearly drought stressed before the mid-April rains so stands have been a little thin," said Justin Gilpin, chief executive of the Kansas Wheat Commission.

Still, yield prospects were better than average, he said.

The route traveling along the northern border of the state found a high yield of 47 bushels per acre (bpa) and a low of 33 bpa, with the crop's development about 10 days to two weeks ahead of the normal pace.

Another route transiting through Dickinson, Ottawa, Cloud, Mitchell, and Osborne counties found an average yield of 52.7 bpa, well above the route's drought- and freeze-damaged finding of 31.1 bpa last year.

A third route surveying crops in the center of the state calculated an average yield of 63 bpa based on seven stops, compared with the route's average of 38.8 bpa a year ago.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday rated 61 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop in good to excellent condition as of May 1, up from 59 percent a week earlier and 43 percent at the same point a year ago.

The crop tour findings and improved crop conditions weighed on wheat futures. K.C. wheat for July delivery was down 18-1/2 cents, or 4 percent, at $4.55-3/4 per bushel in midday trading, just above their lifetime low of $4.52-3/4 reached on April 11.

(Reporting by Karl Plume; Editing by Andrew Hay)