Drought cuts wheat yields in southwest Kansas, northwest Oklahoma

GATE, Oklahoma (Reuters) - Yield potential for hard red winter wheat in southwest Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma is roughly half that of a year ago as exceptional drought conditions take a toll on the crop, scouts on an annual tour said on Wednesday.

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Some farmers may be forced to abandon their wheat fields due to blisteringly dry growing conditions, adding to woes for those already suffering from declining global demand for U.S. wheat, scouts on the Wheat Quality Council tour said.

The United States has fallen to the No. 2 world exporter, behind top shipper Russia, and U.S. farmers this season planted the fewest wheat acres in a century. Kansas is the top wheat- growing U.S. state and Oklahoma is the fifth-largest producer.

Through five stops in Finney and Haskell counties in Kansas and Beaver County in Oklahoma, yield potential averaged 25.1 bushels per acre. That is down from 61.0 bpa a year ago and a five-year average of about 42.5 bpa.

“It’s worse than I thought, especially after we got into Oklahoma. Yields are not going to be good,” said crop scout Rich Kendrick, a business development manager at Great Plains Analytical Lab.

Scouts on another route had similar findings in Kansas counties including Wichita and Kearny. A scout traveling the route said the group’s average yield estimate was in the low 30s. “And that still might be a little high,” he said.

One saving grace for the HRW wheat crop could be higher levels of protein as dry weather generally increases protein content, at the expense of yields, according to scouts on the three-day crop tour.

The past two HRW wheat harvests averaged just above 11 percent protein content, below desired levels of 12 percent or more.

“I think protein will be up, just because it’s drier,” Kendrick added.

Scattered rains and more severe weather, including tornadoes, were moving through parts of the southern U.S. Plains region this week. The moisture provided some relief for plants, many of which have yet to form heads of grain.

The tour will estimate wheat yields for southwest Kansas later on Wednesday during a stop in Wichita and will release statewide Kansas yields and estimate total U.S. production when it ends on Thursday in Manhattan, Kansas.

Reporting by Michael Hirtzer; Editing by Dan Grebler