The U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 30, on the basis of a survey of producers’ planting intentions, forecast area planted to wheat for harvest in the United States this year at 55,908,000 acres, up 3% from 54,409,000 acres in 2011 but well short of the average of pre-report trade estimates at 57.6 million acres. The forecast contained in the department’s annual Prospective Plantings report also fell short of the U.S.D.A.’s preliminary plantings forecast of 58 million acres issued at the Agricultural Outlook Forum 2012 in late February.

While the winter wheat area was trimmed slightly from the estimate contained in the Winter Wheat Seedings report issued in mid-January, it was the forecast for spring wheat other than durum that took most by surprise. The U.S.D.A. forecast plantings of other-spring wheat for harvest this year at 11,976,000 acres, down 3% from 12,394,000 acres in 2011. It would be the smallest area planted to other-spring wheat since 1983 and compared with the recent five-year average other-spring wheat area at 13.4 million acres. It should be noted growers last year indicated they intended to plant 14,427,000 acres of spring wheat, but an excessively wet spring prevented them from reaching their planting goals.

Most analysts expected an increase in other-spring wheat plantings from a year ago with weather forecasts favorable for seeding and wheat prices high. The average of pre-report trade estimates for other-spring wheat planted area was 13.3 million acres.

Of the total area expected to be planted to other-spring wheat, the U.S.D.A. forecast 11.3 million acres to be planted in hard red spring wheat.

In commentary on the other-spring wheat forecast accompanying the Prospective Plantings report, the U.S.D.A. noted, “Planted acreage is expected to be down in all producing states except Montana. A record low acreage is expected to be planted in South Dakota.”

Other-spring wheat was expected to lose ground in the northern Plains to alternative crops, including durum, corn and soybeans.

The U.S.D.A. forecast durum area planted for harvest this year at 2,223,000 acres, up 62% from 1,369,000 acres in 2011 and compared with 2,560,000 acres in 2010. North Dakota durum area was forecast at 1,500,000 acres, double the year-ago area. Northern Plains producers said they intend to plant 1,983,000 acres to durum this spring compared with 1,169,000 acres in 2011, when producers weren’t able to seed all the durum they intended because of waterlogged fields and persistently wet weather. Area planted to desert durum (Arizona and California) for harvest this year was estimated at 240,000 acres, up 10,000 acres from the January Winter Wheat Seedings estimate and compared with 200,000 acres in 2011.

Meanwhile, producers in North Dakota were expected to seed record areas to corn and soybeans. North Dakota corn area was forecast at 3,400,000 acres, up 52% from 2011, and North Dakota soybean area was forecast at 4,200,000 acres up 5%. South Dakota producers also were expected to plant a record corn area forecast at 5,500,000 acres, up 6% from 2011, while increasing soybean area 5% from 2011 to 4,300,000 acres.

The U.S.D.A. estimated winter wheat area planted for harvest this year at 41,709,000 acres, up 3% from 2011 but down 1% from the Winter Wheat Seedings report.