Rain to bring further delays to unusually slow US winter wheat sowings


US winter wheat sowings have slowed to one of the weakest paces on record, thanks to rains which have eased dryness worries in the key central Plains growing area – although jitters remain for the Midwest.

US farmers had as of Sunday seeded 36% of their winter wheat, being planted ahead of the 2018 harvest, US Department of Agriculture data overnight showed.

While up 12 points week on week, the figure was well below the average of 43% for the time of year, and indeed was behind the 37-38% result that investors had expected.

It also represents the second lowest winter wheat planting progress for the time of year on data going back to 1996, beating only the pace in 2000.

'Welcome moisture'

The slow progress reflected in particular a weak pace in central Plains hard red winter wheat-growing areas, such as Oklahoma, where seeding were 13 points behind the typical pace.

In neighbouring Kansas, seedings, at 21% complete, were lagging the average by 18 points.

However, the increasing slowdown behind average levels was attributed to rains last week which, while slowing fieldwork, provided much-needed moisture for germination.

In Kansas, the proportion of top soil rated "short" or "very short" of moisture by the USDA dropped by 21 points week on week to 37%.

In Oklahoma, it tumbled by 29 points to 18%, while falling by 12 points to 14% in Colorado, where USDA scouts noted that "continued cool and wet conditions again last week delayed fieldwork… but provided welcome moisture in areas".

At Chicago broker Futures International, Terry Reilly said: "Good rain across the [area's] winter wheat areas last week left producers out their fields, but the rain is welcome."

'Temperatures too low for planting'

However, further north in Montana, the third-ranked winter wheat growing state after Kansas and Oklahoma, where plantings were 17% behind the usual pace, a lack of moisture remained an issue for farmers – as did cold temperatures.

"Soil moisture conditions were recorded with 57% of topsoil rated very short to short, compared to 30% the previous year," the USDA said, adding that its scouts had "noted that low temperatures had some growers turning off their irrigation systems.

"Hard frosts were also reported, and reporters noted that temperatures in some areas were too low for planting of winter wheat, with poor germination."

Sowing into dry ground

Meanwhile, in the Midwest - the production centre for soft red winter wheat, as traded in Chicago - dryness was also flagged as an issue in key growing state Ohio, where USDA scouts reported "scarce to non-existent rains and soaring temperatures" last week.

Topsoil in 56% of the state was rated as being short or very short of moisture, the USDA said, adding that "wheat planting continued with many growers opting to 'dust in' the crop".

Indeed, Ohio winter wheat sowings, at 18%, were 1 point ahead of the average pace.

In Illinois, where "dry conditions were prevalent across the state last week", sowings were also, at 9% complete, in line with the average pace - despite 84% of topsoil being short or very short of moisture.

'Concerns about germination'

The data flagged ideas of an east-west split in winter wheat fortunes, with broker Benson Quinn Commodities saying that while "planting conditions have improved in the southern Plains, dry conditions in the eastern Midwest have raised concerns about germination of the soft red winter wheat crop".

However, rains are expected for both soft red and hard red winter wheat growing areas.

MDA said that "rains will be widespread across the hard red winter wheat belt in the Plains this week, which will slow wheat planting, but provide plentiful soil moisture for wheat germination".

In the Midwest "rains will continue to favour" north western areas on Tuesday, but "should spread into the central Midwest on Wednesday and will favour south central and western areas on Thursday and Friday".


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