March 19, 2018 / 6:16 PM / in a month

Storms bring much-needed moisture to U.S. Plains wheat belt

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A winter storm brought beneficial rain and snow on Monday to portions of the southern U.S. Plains, where the region’s hard red winter wheat crop has endured months of drought, an agricultural meteorologist said.

The storm produced about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of liquid moisture across northern, central and eastern Kansas, the biggest U.S. wheat-growing state. It also hit Nebraska and northern Colorado.

“Central Kansas definitely got some improvement. But the far southwestern areas are going to be missed,” said Don Keeney, an agricultural meteorologist with Radiant Solutions.

Warmer and drier weather is expected to return to the region this week before another chance for showers next week.

“It will melt rather quickly,” Keeney said, adding that temperatures in Kansas should warm later this week to 70s Fahrenheit (21-26 Celsius).

Hard red winter wheat is emerging from dormancy in the southern Plains and resuming growth, a phase when its moisture intake rises. News of the storm sent most-active K.C. May hard red winter wheat futures down nearly 6 percent to $4.70 a bushel, the contract’s lowest in six weeks.

Nearly one-fifth of Kansas was under extreme to exceptional drought as of March 13, conditions not seen in the state since 2014, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data.

Even worse off was Oklahoma, another major winter wheat producer, where 35 percent of the state was in extreme drought. But Monday’s storm and the moisture next week should skip most of western Oklahoma and northern Texas.

“That southwestern corridor, they may get a few light showers next week, but I don’t think we will see any major precipitation there,” Keeney said.

Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by James Dalgleish

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