WASHINGTON — 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.
``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.