McMillan: Kansas wheat conditions remain variable

The annual Wheat Quality Council tour has confirmed expectations of poor crops across most of Kansas and neighbouring states. Scouts on the tour determined an average yield of 41.1 bushels per acre, 18 per cent below the tour’s thoughts last year.

In 2012, the tour estimated Kansas yield at 49.1 bushels per acre. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s May estimate for Kansas wheat yield was 43 bu./ac., which dropped slightly to 42 by harvest time due to dry growing conditions later in the season.

A combination of planting into dry soil, limited autumn rain, harsh winter weather and regular spring freezes have reduced crop condition and yield outlook for the current crop.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimated 27 per cent of the winter wheat grown in Kansas was in good to excellent condition on April 28. In contrast, in 2012, 62 per cent of the Kansas winter wheat crop was in good to excellent condition.

The current crop condition resembles 2011, when 21 per cent of the crop was in good to excellent condition.

In 2011 the final yield was 35 bu./ac., which was again lower than the tour estimate of 37.4. In seven out of 10 recent years the Wheat Quality Tour estimated yields were higher than final yields in Kansas.

The tour dips into nearby portions of Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska, which creates some challenges for direct comparisons. In most years Colorado has similar, Oklahoma lower and Nebraska higher yields.

Dalton Henry of the Kansas Wheat Commission participated on the tour and said “At the start of the tour, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, 72 per cent of Kansas wheat acres were in extreme or exceptional drought.” The majority of those drought impacted acres were in the central and western crop districts.

Travelling through the westernmost Kansas counties, Henry commented, “The wheat was only two to three inches tall, very patchy stands and in some cases the wheat had not even emerged above the furrows.”

A striking comparison is seen from east to west. While the wheat crops in the west are suffering from repeated blows, in eastern Kansas wheat crops are thriving, having had better soil moisture conditions during the fall planting season. Crops there have also avoided the worst of the winter weather, even if temperatures have been below normal.

Tour participants confirmed this with yield estimates across the eastern districts above last year’s estimates. USDA’s Crop Progress Report from the week of the tour showed the three eastern Kansas districts ranging from 84 to 94 per cent surplus to adequate soil moisture. The western states soil moisture ranged from six to 12 per cent adequate, with none reporting surplus soil moisture.

Although crop conditions and yield forecast in the east are rosy in comparison to the west, production quantities are essential to understanding market impact. Over the past five years the three eastern districts combined only accounted for seven per cent of total state wheat production.

“There are some critical bushels in the east, but the majority is in central and western regions,” Henry said.

Yield estimates at this point in the season have uncertainty, given the importance of weather during heading and filling. Most yield forecasts assume normal precipitation going forward throughout the season.

“There is more uncertainty this year as the soil moisture levels have not recharged sufficiently,” Henry said. “In 2012, the wheat crop could rely on soil moisture to finish the crop. This year we simply don’t have the moisture in the soil for the wheat crop to finish”.

Added variability is expected in the state estimate because of the inconsistency between regions and the slow development. USDA’s May estimate will be released Friday (May 10) and will provide the market with new information on the production outlook.

— Stuart McMillan writes from Winnipeg on weather and agronomic issues affecting Prairie farmers.

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