January 3: USDA Says Winter Wheat is Being Winter-Killed

At a time wheat acres are already at lows not seen in more than 100 years, it appears that winter wheat quality could be at an even greater premium than first expected.

The cold snap over the New Year’s weekend has done damage to crops as expected. The USDA reported a decline in winter wheat conditions in their weekly crop progress report.

At a time that wheat acres are already at lows not seen in more than 100 years, it appears that quality is going to be at an even greater premium than first expected.

The problems have accelerated in wheat states at a time that production has faltered.

As I noted last week in our 2017 winter wheat annual review, the numbers from last year showed a sharp decline. Total 2017 wheat production fell 25% year-over-year. Yields fell from 52.7 bushels per acre down to 46.3 bushels per acre.

Digging into the USDA’s Small Grains report, we found that winter wheat production slumped by 24% compared to 2016. Average yields fell from 55.3 bpa to 50.2 bpa in the span of a year.

Looking at the recent report, it’s starting to look similar to last year.

Oklahoma winter wheat quality fell to just 15% good to excellent. That number is now down by half from November. The figure also indicates the very serious drought problem now covering 76% of the state. Meanwhile, Kansas, which I didn’t list above saw a 14 point drop in GE in a month. Right now, just 37% of the crop is rated good to excellent.

In the Midwest, 64% of Nebraska winter wheat is rated G/E, which is up 5 points month-over-month. Next door, in Illinois, 56% of the winter wheat crop there (most of the soft red type) is rated G/E. That’s down 6 points from the 62% it was at by the end of November.

Further north, South Dakota’s winter wheat crop rating sits at 20%, up from 18% where it ended in November.

But only about 5% of the acres in the Northern Plains would be impacted. Overall though, it’s estimated that about 25% of the hard red winter wheat area in America had little snow cover and it was hit by the extremely cold temperatures. 

The risk of winterkill to a winter wheat plant though consists of things like: 

• How wet the soil is,
• How long cold temperatures last,
• How established the wheat plant is,
• The depth of the crown of the plant, and
• The temperature at the soil. 

As a reminder, wheat is a weed! A few good rains and sunshine can perk crops who are on the verge of not making it.

And, ultimately, we won’t know the full extent of the damage until the crop breaks dormancy.

But we will welcome the price volatility to take advantage over the next 4 – 8 weeks. 


US flags dryness, freeze damage to winter wheat, which faces more “extremely cold weather”

US officials highlighted the setback to winter wheat crops from cold and dry weather, as meteorologists forecast more freezing temperatures ahead – although centred further east than the latest cold snap.

US Department of Agriculture scouts reported a decline in winter wheat condition across the key southern Plains growing region in December – a month marked by low precipitation in many parts, leaving crops open to the cold temperatures which struck late on.

In Oklahoma, the second-ranked winter wheat growing state, scouts crop rated 15% of crop in “good” or “excellent” condition as of the close of last month, the lowest year-end figure since 2012, and a reading down from the 30% recorded as of late November.

“Oklahoma experienced cold and dry conditions during the month,” the USDA said.

It noted that as of December 26 “76% of the state was in the moderate to exceptional drought”, while reporting that temperatures fell as low as 1 degree Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius) on the last day of the month, as the US freeze took hold.

‘Dry conditions accompanied by cold snaps’

In Kansas, the top US winter wheat-producing state, the proportion of winter wheat rated good or excellent closed December at 37% good or excellent, a drop of 14 points over the month, and also the lowest year-end reading since 2012.

The five-year average rating is 46% good or excellent.

USDA scouts reported at 77% of Kansas topsoil was short or very short of moisture – up from 39% at the close of November.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, the proportion of winter wheat rated good or excellent dropped 18 points over the month to 48%, amid conditions marked by dryness, with “minimal seasonal snowfall across the state.

“Reporters in all districts noted that insignificant moisture was received during the past month and that snow was too cold to contain much moisture content,” the USDA said.

In the north east of Colorado, scouts “expressed concern that dry conditions accompanied by cold snaps without the benefit of snow cover might have hurt fall seeded wheat”.

In Texas, a separate report from the Federal Reserve revealed dryness threats to winter wheat, with a report from one northern country that “approximately 80% of wheat planted… has not emerged”.

‘Widespread winterkill’

The data come amid a heightened focus on prospects for US winter wheat, thanks to cold temperatures which has extended into this week, too.

Weather service MDA noted that temperatures were “especially” cold on Monday morning, “when lows dropped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) across all of the Midwest and most of the Plains, with temperatures as low as -45 Fahrenheit (-43 Celsius) in some northern areas.

“Snow cover was sufficient to protect winter wheat from the extreme cold across the northern Plains and northern and central Midwest, but some winterkill damage was likely across eastern Colorado, much of Kansas, Missouri, and southern Illinois, where snow cover was lacking,” MDA said.

Indeed, “widespread winterkill occurred Monday morning in Kansas and far north western Oklahoma”.

‘Extremely cold weather will continue’

And MDA forecast further cold temperatures to come, although further east than the Plains, saying that “extremely cold weather will continue across the central and eastern US this week, but the core of the cold should focus upon the Midwest and north east.

“Additional winterkill damage will be possible later this week across the south western Midwest, where snow cover will remain thin.”

Crops in the Midwest – which grows soft red winter wheat, as traded in Chicago, rather than the hard red winter wheat sown in the Plains – have up to now fared better than that in the likes of Kansas.

The proportion of winter wheat in Illinois rated good or excellent as of the end of last month, at 56%, down a more modest 6 points from the end-December reading.

Crops in the northern Plains have suffered less too than those in the south, with the South Dakota good or excellent reading, while still weak at 20%, up 2 points for last month.

The 64% of Nebraska wheat rated good or excellent as of the end of December represented an improvement of 5 points for the month.

H/T: Agrinews
About the Author
Garrett Baldwin

Garrett Baldwin is a content strategist and editor at FarmLead. He covers the global grain markets and public policy issues related to the agricultural industry. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Economic Policy from The Johns Hopkins University, an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, and an MBA in Finance from Indiana University.