Rains, snow help US winter wheat crop halt condition decline


US winter wheat seedlings have, after a poor close to 2016, arrested their decline in condition – although they remain broadly in worse condition than a year ago.

The proportion of winter wheat seedlings in Kansas, the top US wheat-producing state, rated "good" or "excellent" held at 44% this month, said US Department of Agriculture scouts, who had identified an 8-point drop in the condition rating over December.

Crop ratings were also little changed in Nebraska and North Dakota, while showing improvement in other hard red winter wheat states Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota, as well as in Illinois, a grower of the soft red winter wheat as traded in Chicago.

The improvements followed a month in which dryness which has plagued crops late last year went into retreat, with the proportion of the US South rated in drought, at 17.7% as of last week, down 15.4 points so far this year, according to USDA data.

In the Plains, 18.6% of area is rated as being in drought, down 2.9 points so far in 2017.

'Considerable snowpack'

Besides easing dryness, winter precipitation in the form of snow also acts as a blanket against frost, and many northern states reported heavy falls this month.

In Montana, scouts said that "the month of January was predominantly cold and snowy for much of the state", while North Dakota saw "continued snow and ice", and South Dakota has witnessed "considerable snowpack".

Indeed, the extent of northern US snow has raised some grain market concerns over floods, and delays to spring sowings, when it melts – although such fears have eased a little in recent days with a rise in temperatures which has reduced the snowpack.

'Conditions still concerning'

Still, there remain crop threats, with Nebraska scouts, for instance, noting that "at the end of the month, snow cover was limited to northern areas", with a dearth of snow flagged as a worry in parts of Colorado, where state-wide winter wheat ratings fell 4 points month on month to 36% rated "good" or "excellent".

"Conditions are still concerning in locations that did not receive as much precipitation," Colorado scouts said.

"Winter wheat stands without adequate cover or protection remain behind due to persistent dry conditions seen earlier in the season."

Oklahoma dryness

In Oklahoma, the recovery in condition ratings appeared to defy a spread in dryness, with the proportion of the state viewed as being in drought up 76.6 points to 79.9% so far this year.

"January began cold and dry, but ended warm and dry," USDA scouts in Oklahoma said, estimating rainfall in the state at at best 1.3 inches over the month, with the panhandle district receiving just 0.2 inches.

The proportion of the state's wheat being grazed, at 55%, was up 6 points year on year, in what would appear a growing willingness among farmers to write-off their crops for harvesting purposes.

Year-on-year decline

Indeed, crop ratings remain behind year-ago levels in all states monitored bar two – South Dakota and Illinois – in a sign that the US may struggle this year to repeat its bumper wheat yield of 2016.

The first winter wheat rating of 2017 for Texas came in at 29%, down 12 points from the previous reading, in late November, and 20 points below the year-ago figure.

"Cold temperatures" had damaged oat crops in parts of the state's Cross Timbers region, USDA scouts said.


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