Wheat: Crop Conditions Fall as Drought Worsens

Farmers will tell you that winter wheat is a hardy plant; but for the current U.S. winter wheat crop, one of its most important inputs, water, is increasingly in short supply. The Feb. 1 U.S. Drought Monitor showed that drought ranging from abnormally dry to extreme, affects most of the winter wheat production area across the country.

Specifically, 81 percent of Oklahoma is in a severe to extreme drought, while 65 percent of Kansas is in a moderate to extreme drought. In South Dakota and Colorado, 64 percent and 59 percent of the topsoil moisture was rated as short to very short, respectively.

USDA noted the drought’s impact on winter wheat crop conditions in its monthly winter wheat crop condition report on Jan. 29, which showed 29 percent of the area assessed by the survey is in good to excellent condition, down from 41 percent good to excellent at the end of December.

USDA rated 35 percent in fair condition and 37 percent in poor or very poor condition, up from 22 percent last month. The assessment covered 69 percent of the estimated 32.6 million acres (13.2 million hectares) planted for 2018/19.

Deteriorating crop conditions could multiply the effect of low planted area to decrease 2018/19 U.S. winter wheat production. USDA noted the 2018/19 winter wheat planted area is 15 percent below the 5-year average in its Jan. 12 Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings report, which is the second lowest number of planted winter wheat acres on record.

Of the winter wheat classes, hard red winter (HRW) is the most severely affected by drought. USDA reported 23 percent of HRW assessed acres are in good to excellent condition, compared to 35 percent in December. Forty-two percent of HRW acres were rated in poor or very poor condition, up from 25 percent one month prior.

The only major HRW state not assessed last week was Texas, where 5 million acres (2.02 million hectares) of winter wheat were planted for 2018/19. However, precipitation maps show it has not rained in 110 days in Northern Texas (accounting for about 60 percent of Texas wheat production).

In response to these reports, the Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBT) March wheat contract rallied 20 cents last week to $4.63/bu ($170/MT), the highest point since July 2017.

Soft red winter conditions are variable. USDA rated 58 percent of soft red winter (SRW) wheat assessed acres in good to excellent condition compared to 68 percent four weeks prior, and just 7 percent were rated in poor or very poor condition. However, SRW crop conditions were not uniformly positive.

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Better crop conditions in Ohio and Tennessee mask worsening moisture conditions in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Ninety-five percent of Virginia, 61 percent of North Carolina and most of Maryland are abnormally dry or in moderate drought. Ratings were not available for several southern SRW states where drought conditions are more severe.

Deteriorating crop conditions also helped push Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) March wheat futures price to its highest point in five months at $4.47/bu ($164/MT).

Winter wheat crop conditions were not reported this month for Idaho, Oregon or Washington where exportable soft white wheat supplies are concentrated. However, the Feb. 1 Drought Monitor shows southern Idaho and nearly all of Oregon are abnormally dry. However, precipitation is expected in the next 5 to 10 days that should be beneficial for most of the estimated 3.56 million acres (1.44 million hectares) of white wheat.

Some rain this week pressured wheat prices, showing that the futures markets will likely be volatile until the spring green up tells the final story. It is a long way until harvest, but customers should closely watch weather conditions across the United States and be ready to take advantage of price moves in their favor.

If you have any questions about the current crop conditions or the U.S. marketing system, please contact your local USW representative.

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