Wheat Market: As Always, Weather Is the Wildcard for Planting, Production

Image from Mississippi State University

According to the March 29 USDA Prospective Plantings report, U.S. total spring-planted area will jump to an estimated 14.1 million acres (5.71 million hectares), 12 percent above 2017/18, if realized. The estimate includes 12.1 million acres (4.90 million hectares) of hard red spring (HRS), up 17 percent from 2017, if realized.

It is important to note that this is an estimate, as farmers in the top four HRS producing states of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have not started planting due to extremely cold, snowy weather across the region.

USDA expects a 1.05 million acre (425,000 hectare) increase in North Dakota spring wheat area, which is forecast at 6.40 million acres (2.59 million hectares). If realized, that would be up 20 percent year over year. Spring wheat acres in Minnesota are also expected to increase 38 percent from 2017/18 levels to 1.6 million acres (648,000 hectares).

South Dakota 2018/19 HRS planted area is forecast at 1.05 million acres (425,000 hectares), up 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares). However, the planting window for spring wheat in North Dakota and Minnesota is no more than three weeks; after that the yield potential starts to decrease and farmers choose to plant alternative crops.

“This cold, wet spring could work against spring wheat planting in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota,” said Mike Krueger, an independent market analyst based in North Dakota. “Farmers in these areas are reluctant to plant spring wheat after late April and right now the forecast is calling for another two weeks of cold weather and snow. If planting is delayed until May, we will probably see a switch to soybeans or other crops.”

USDA forecast Montana HRS planted area at 2.50 million acres (1.00 million hectares), in line with 2017/18 planted area. But, in contrast to eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, the late spring may increase HRS planted acres in parts of Montana according to Cassidy Marn, marketing program manager with the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee.

“Farmers in Montana have fewer alternatives and, since we can only grow limited quantities of corn and soybeans here, wheat tends to be the last alternative,” said Marn. “Planting peas and lentils is possible, but given the amount of snow we still have on frozen ground, some farmers could miss the window for those crops. Planting spring wheat in June is not ideal, but it is preferable to planting nothing.”

USDA expects U.S. durum planted area to total 2.00 million acres (809,000 hectares), down 13 percent from 2017/18, if realized. The predicted decline is driven in large part by USDA’s expectation that North Dakota farmers will switch from durum to HRS or oilseed crops due to lower returns on durum in recent years. In addition, growers near the border are frustrated by a large volume of durum freely crossing the border from Canada that increases pressure on durum prices. Weather conditions will also affect durum planting decisions.

USDA also updated the winter wheat planted area from its January 2018 estimate, increasing winter wheat planted area by 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) to 32.7 million acres (13.2 million hectares). The new estimate is still 2 percent below the 2017/18 planted area. The increase came from hard red winter (HRW) area, estimated at 23.2 million acres (9.39 million hectares), up slightly from the previous projection, but still 2 percent below the year prior and 17 percent below the 5-year average.

The decreased HRW planted area makes crop conditions even more crucial. The April 2 USDA Crop Progress report rated 10 percent of Kansas HRW, 9 percent of Oklahoma HRW and 17 percent of South Dakota winter wheat as good, with virtually none of the crop rated as excellent in those states.

Soft red winter (SRW) planted area decreased from the previous estimate to 5.85 million acres (2.37 million hectares), but is still 4 percent above 2017/18 planted area. Overall, conditions for SRW are similar to what growers faced at the same time last year with a majority of the crop rated in good to excellent condition.

USDA expects white wheat acres — planted in both winter and spring — to reach 4.15 million acres (1.68 million hectares) for 2018/19, up 3 percent from 2017/18, but in line with the 5-year average. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows adequate moisture for Washington, but southern Idaho and Oregon are experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. Still, USDA reported that the majority of the white wheat crop in those states are in good to excellent condition.

The expected increase in spring wheat area would increase total U.S. wheat planted area to 47.3 million acres (19.1 million hectares) in 2018/19, up 3 percent year over year. The increase was unexpected, but if realized it would still be the second lowest planted wheat area since 1919 when USDA records began.

As always, spring brings the waiting game — all we can do is watch how the crops respond to conditions going forward.


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