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CHICAGO: US farmers expanded seedings of winter wheat this autumn for the first time in eight years as strong demand and dry weather in several producing countries fuels higher prices for the grain, farmers and analysts said.

Winter wheat, seeded in the Northern Hemisphere in autumn for harvest in June, is the first cash crop to be planted since an agricultural commodity price rally began in August. The rally is a welcome relief for farmers after four years of global surplus grain stocks that have kept prices low and hobbled the US agricultural economy.

Tightening grain supplies and demand from China have lit a fire under Chicago Board of Trade corn, soya and wheat futures. CBOT soyabeans are at a four-year high and wheat is near a six-year top at around $6 a bushel. The US Agriculture Department (USDA) says there could be record acreage of all major US crops next year.

David Justison, a third-generation farmer who grows wheat, corn and soyabeans in Montgomery County in south-central Illinois, planted 1,200 acres (485 hectares) of winter wheat this autumn, up from 900 acres last year.

"It's the best price I have seen in a few years. Six-dollar wheat is something that got my attention," Justison said. USDA this month projected US total wheat seedings for 2021, including winter and spring wheat, at 46.0 million acres, up from 44.3 million acres in 2020/21.

Domestic demand for wheat and flour has held roughly steady from a year ago, USDA data shows, even as the pandemic sent millers and bakers scrambling to adapt to consumers eating more meals at home instead of dining out.

US wheat export sales commitments for the 2020/21 marketing year begun June 1 are up 10.5% as of Nov. 12 from a year ago. China, an irregular US wheat buyer, has booked 1.7 million tonnes of US wheat, up from 194,063 tonnes last year.