By Mark Weinraub
BISMARCK, North Dakota, July 23 (Reuters) - Spring wheat yields in southern North Dakota are expected to be larger than average and higher than last year, as dry and hot conditions in July helped the crop develop after rain delayed planting throughout much of May, scouts on annual tour said on Tuesday.
Hard red spring wheat yields were projected at 43.3 bushels per acre, based on a survey of 195 fields across southern portions of North Dakota, as well as some fields in South Dakota, on a tour organized by the Wheat Quality Council.
A year ago, yields across the southern portion of the state were projected at 42.9 bushels per acre, based on surveys of 171 fields. The average yield projection for the tour's first day from 2008 to 2012 was 41.7 bushels per acre.
"The wheat looks exceptionally good," said Dave Green, director of quality control and laboratory services at ADM Milling. "This is a big yielding year coming up."
Yield projections for hard red spring wheat ranged from 10.9 bushels per acre to 88 bushels per acre. Both the highest and lowest projections came from the southernmost route.
The southern parts of North Dakota were likely to produce the best yields in the state this year, added Green, who was a scout on the tour.
Scouts also pegged durum yields at 53.1 bushels per acre, based on surveys of three fields, compared to 28.6 bushels per acre in 2012. Hard red winter wheat yields in the area were projected at 47.0 bushels per acre, up from 30.3 a year ago, although only five fields were surveyed.
"Right now, things are looking good but boy it has been a struggle," said Tom Teigen, director of the North Dakota State University Agronomy Seed Farm. "It has made a remarkable recovery."
Growers planted wheat in fits and starts due to heavy rains and the crop struggled early because conditions were too wet until a dry spell during July.
The three-day spring wheat tour kicked off on Tuesday, with a record 75 scouts fanning out from Fargo on routes across North Dakota, the top U.S. spring wheat state, as well as western Minnesota and northern South Dakota.
This year's participants include, farmers, market analysts, grain buyers, government statisticians and officials from food companies such as Kraft Foods Group Inc and General Mills Inc.
The tour will survey fields in northern and northwest North Dakota on Wednesday before examining the crop in northeastern areas of the state, including the fertile Red River Valley, on Thursday.
The tour will release daily crop reports. On Thursday the group will give a final average yield estimate for the region's hard red spring wheat and durum.
Hard red spring wheat is a high-protein crop used to make flour for bread and pizza dough. Durum is a key ingredient in pasta.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has forecast North Dakota's spring wheat harvest at 229.6 million bushels this year, with an average yield of 41 bushels an acre. Spring wheat makes up about a quarter of the total U.S. wheat crop.
The USDA said on Monday afternoon that the spring wheat crop was rated 68 percent good to excellent as of July 21, a 2 percentage point drop from a week earlier. A year ago, the crop was rated 60 percent good to excellent.