Drought-tested and deteriorating US winter wheat set for further dryness

28.02.2018

US wheat-growing areas are poised for more of the dry weather which has got the winter crop off to a historically poor start, with condition declining across a swathe of states, including top grower Kansas.

Eastern parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas should receive “a few rain showers” over the next two days, Radiant Solutions said.

However, the rainfall will amount to at best 0.5 inches, with less than 10% coverage, the weather service said, adding that “dry weather should prevail otherwise through Friday”.

This when “dryness remains extensive across much of Kansas, western Oklahoma, south eastern Colorado, and north western Texas and no improvement is expected this week”, although some eastern areas of Oklahoma and Texas have received moisture in recent days.

At broker RJ O’Brien, Richard Feltes flagged “prospects for a continuation of dry weather across the US hard red winter wheat belt”, for which the southern Plains is the key growing area.

Kansas decline

The forecast came as US Department of Agriculture data confirmed continued damage to winter wheat crops from the dryness, rating at 12% the proportion of Kansas crop in “good” or “excellent” condition.

That represents a drop of 2 points for the month, the weakest figure in at least a decade, and was down from 43% a year before.

Indeed, the five-year average Kansas winter wheat rating for the end of February is 41%.

The extent of the dryness afflicting the crop was underlined by data showing 71% of Kansas subsoil, and 74% of topsoil, rated “short” or “very short” or moisture.

‘High rates of failure’

For Oklahoma, the second-ranked winter wheat growing state, the proportion of the crop rated good or excellent held at 4%, again the lowest February reading in recent history, below a 9% figure reported in 2013.
 
“Precipitation levels continued to be rated below normal throughout the state,” USDA officials said, noting that “89% of the state was in the severe to exceptional drought categories, up 62 points from the previous year”.

The Oklahoma canola and oats crops were both rated 3% good or excellent, down 3 points and 4 points respectively for the month.

In Colorado, another major growing state, the proportion of winter wheat rated good or excellent fell by 6 points month on month to 31%, with officials noting that “continued dry conditions were very concerning for pasture and winter wheat conditions”.

“The winter wheat crop in Montezuma county was reported to be in extremely poor condition with high rates of failure.”

‘Potential for increased abandonment’

The data come amid mounting worries among investors over the extent of crop damage caused by dryness, worries which have propelled Kansas City hard red winter wheat futures to their highest levels since July.

The US Department of Agriculture last week, unveiling much-anticipated forecasts for US crop supply and demand in 2018-19, forecast that 83.4% of all-wheat would make it to harvest, a proportion “slightly below the long-term average and reflective of the potential for increased abandonment in the drought-affected winter wheat belt in the southern Plains.

“At present, an estimated 42% of the 2018-19 winter wheat crop is located in an area experiencing drought,” the USDA added.

Illinois improvement

Still, in one state at least, Illinois, the winter wheat rating increased last month, by 7 points to 45% rated good or excellent.

The increase came amid a month of more generous precipitation in the state, a major grower of soft red winter wheat, the type traded in Chicago, with some southern areas receiving 10 inches or more.

The proportion of the state’s topsoil rated as short or very short of moisture tumbled by 24 points month on month to 4%, with the figure for subsoil down 17 points at 22%.


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