Column: Recent precipitation in U.S. Plains fails to lift shabby wheat health

A combine harvests winter wheat in Corn
A combine harvests winter wheat in Corn, Oklahoma, U.S., June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

NAPERVILLE, Ill., Jan 30 (Reuters) - Parched winter wheat in the U.S. Plains has received well above average precipitation this month and drought levels have improved since last fall, but crop health has not yet made a significant recovery.

Nationally, U.S. winter wheat conditions at the end of November were nearly the worst ever for the date, and updated state reports on Monday confirm that the wheat-heavy Plains are still in need of cooperative weather going forward to avoid yield losses similar to last year.

Winter wheat condition in top grower Kansas is 21% good or excellent (GE), identical to late November but up 2 points from the start of January. Texas GE totals 14%, up from 11% a week earlier, but down from 21% two months ago.

Oklahoma’s conditions took the biggest dive at 17% GE this week versus 38% a month ago and 31% two months ago, and Colorado’s 38% GE is better than all its late fall ratings but down from 50% a month ago.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this month pegged combined winter wheat plantings in those top four states at 21 million acres, up 11% on the year and accounting for 57% of the U.S. total. All U.S. winter wheat area is estimated at an eight-year high.

Some 47% of winter wheat in Kansas is rated poor or very poor (PVP), down from 49% a month ago but up from 43% two months ago. Texas PVP is at 52% versus 29% in late November and Oklahoma’s 34% compares with 24% two months ago. These states grow most of the country’s hard red winter variety.

It is possible that conditions are lagging following the very recent moisture in some areas, which if so, may lead to a ratings improvement in the next comprehensive release of state-level conditions at the end of February.

Wheat health is better in key soft red winter wheat states like Illinois and Missouri, where GE this week covers 69% and 68% of the crop, respectively. But only 5% of the country’s winter wheat has been sown in these states.

Winter wheat at the U.S. level was 34% GE and 26% PVP in the last assessment at the end of November. National-level ratings will resume in April.

Kansas winter wheat conditions: late January


This week, traders are monitoring an arctic blast cold enough to potentially injure some wheat in the Plains, though many of the areas in question have at least an inch of snow on the ground, which protects plants against extreme cold.

Current forecasts suggest precipitation in the first half of February could lean above average for the Southern Plains, potentially chipping away at the stubborn drought, though wheat yields will be overwhelmingly dependent on March and April moisture.

Per last week’s drought monitor, some 59% of U.S. winter wheat areas were covered by moderate or worse drought, unchanged from the previous two weeks. That is down from the recent peak of 75% in late November and below 68% in the same week last year.

But exceptional drought, the most intense level on the scale, dominates 15% of winter wheat areas, barely changed in the last two months and above 2% a year ago.

The heavy concentration of poor crop conditions in hard red winter wheat country does not bode well for overall U.S. wheat exports, already set to hit 51-year lows in 2022-23 and account for a record low 10% of global wheat trade.

According to U.S. export inspection data for the 2019-20 marketing year, which was a decent season for both winter and spring wheat crops, hard red winter was the most heavily inspected wheat variety at 38% of the total.

Hard red spring wheat accounted for 28%, soft white winter 20%, soft red winter 9%, and durum and other wheat accounted for 5% of inspections.

Karen Braun is a market analyst for Reuters. Views expressed above are her own.

Reporting by Karen Braun Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

Thomson Reuters

As a columnist for Reuters, Karen focuses on all aspects of the global agriculture markets with a primary focus in grains and oilseeds. Karen comes from a strong science background and has a passion for data, statistics, and charts, and she uses them to add context to whatever hot topic is driving the markets. Karen holds degrees in meteorology and sometimes features that expertise in her columns. Follow her on Twitter @kannbwx for her market insights.