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Rain Pares Size of US Wheat Harvest

HEAVY rains and plant diseases are cutting into the winter wheat crop, the United States government said Tuesday, forecasting that farmers will harvest 1.45 billion bushels - the smallest crop, by a narrow margin, since 1978. The crop already had been expected to be far smaller than last year's 2.03 billion bushels because of the combined effects of a freeze in the Pacific Northwest, drought in California, and a requirement that farmers leave more land idle to qualify for subsidies.

In its monthly crop report, the US Department of Agriculture forecast a crop that would be 5 million bushels smaller than 1989's 1.454 billion bushels, which was the smallest crop since the 1.22 billion bushels of 1978.

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``Wetness has fostored a myriad of disease problems,'' the crop report said. ``Sharp yield declines from last month are indicated in Illinois, Kentucky, and most of the Delta soft red [winter wheat] areas. These declines more than offset modest increases in some of the principal hard red winter states.''

Based on June 1 conditions, the government said, the crop would be 29 percent smaller than last year's.

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