MANHATTAN, Kan. (Reuters) - Wheat fields in Kansas, the top U.S. producer of the grain, were above average as crops benefited from good soil moisture, scouts on the annual Wheat Quality Council crop tour said on Thursday.
However, scouts were unable to assess how late-season snow that fell over the weekend in the western part of the state would affect developing plants that flattened some fields and snapped stalks.
During the three-day tour, dozens of crop scouts from milling companies and trade houses surveyed 469 fields of hard red winter wheat, a variety used most widely to make bread.
“This is an above-average crop, for sure. The soil moisture profile is as good as it can possibly be. The unknown is the damage to the crop in the west,” said tour organizer Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council.
The tour estimated yield potential at 46.1 bushels per acre, above the five-year tour average of 41.6 bpa but below the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s record-large estimate of 57.0 bpa for last year’s crop.
Kansas winter wheat production was estimated by the tour at 281.78 million bushels, compared to USDA’s estimate in 2016 of 467.4 million bushels.
Scouts opted not to calculate yields on many fields in western Kansas hit by heavy snow. As an illustration of this, the tour sampled 205 fields on Wednesday, compared to 300 fields on the second day of the tour a year ago and 305 fields in 2015.
Snow was still present on some of the fields as of midweek - highly unusual for May. Kansas State University extension wheat specialist Romulo Lollato said it could be 10-12 days before the extent of the damage can be gauged.
“It’s hard to count tillers (stems) in the snow,” Green said. “But we didn’t count them (the fields) as a zero.”
K.C. July wheat futures that track Kansas’ wheat crop surged more than 6 percent on Monday amid fears of a snow-damaged harvest. The contract has given back much of those gains since, pulled down by the better-than-average tour estimates, settling down 18-3/4 cents, or 4.3 percent, at $4.44-1/2 per bushel on Thursday.
Futures International analyst Terry Reilly said the lower Kansas wheat production estimate suggested some of the snow-covered fields would be lost.
“Yield is unusually high given the crop problems we had. But with production estimate of 282 million bushels, the area abandonment is incredibly high,” Reilly said.
Additional reporting by Renita D. Young, writing by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and Chizu Nomiyama