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UPDATE 1-North Dakota spring wheat crop slashed by drought -crop tour

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By Karl Plume

FARGO, North Dakota, July 29 (Reuters) - The average spring wheat yield in North Dakota, the top-producing state, was estimated at 29.1 bushels per acre on Thursday by the annual Wheat Quality Council tour, the lowest on record going back to 1993 due to a severe drought in the northern Plains.

The figure was well below the crop tour average from 2015-2019 of 43.6 bpa and the U.S. Agriculture Department's 2021 latest spring wheat yield estimate for the state of 28.0 bpa. The Wheat Quality Council did not hold a tour in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A severe drought slashed harvest potential for spring wheat, used in pizza crusts and bagels and to increase protein content of lower-quality wheat, sending prices to their highest in nearly nine years as millers, bakers and global buyers assessed tightening supplies.

All of North Dakota is under some stage of drought, including more than 62% of the state deemed in extreme or exceptional drought, according to climatologists.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered its spring wheat rating by 2 percentage points this week to 9% good to excellent, the lowest since 1988. The agency is projecting a 41% year-on-year decline in production.

"It's certainly been dry here for a long time, particularly in the hardest-hit areas in the north of the state," said Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council.

Crop scouts found uneven growth and short plants with small grain heads in fields across the state, evidence of the stressful weather. Some farmers will deem some fields too poor to harvest, scouts said.

Although the drought curbed the size of the crop, it generated an above-average level of protein, they said.

"We'll probably see a little more of the crop get abandoned," Green said. "But within the next week or two, farmers are going to harvest a lot of below-average wheat yields with above-average quality." (Reporting by Karl Plume in Fargo, North Dakota; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)