US Winter Wheat Latest

There are three classes of winter wheat grown in the US:

Hard Red Winter wheat, grown mainly in southern and central states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Soft Red Winter wheat, grown mainly in the heart of the Midwest in states like Illinois.

Soft White wheat, grown mainly in the Pacific Northwest in states like Washington.

Winter wheat is starting to emerge from dormancy in mixed conditions after the EL Nino effect typically diverts Pacific storms northwards up the coast of British Columbia, avoiding Washington, the 3rd biggest US winter wheat state. The subtropical jet stream however frequently delivers storms to southerly states like Texas and Oklahoma, says Gail Martell of Martell Crop Projections.

This year Texas has received plenty of rain with the state wheat rating improving on March 1 to 46% good-excellent, 36% fair and 18% poor-very poor. That represents a strong increase from a month earlier when just 31% of wheat was good-excellent and 29% was poor-very poor. West Texas has a semi-arid climate, and above-normal winter precipitation almost always leads to a favorable wheat yield, says Gail.

Further north things aren't looking as good. The top US wheat producing state is Kansas, which alone grows nearly one-quarter of the US crop. Here, a dry winter played a significant role, and so did cold temperatures that remained below freezing in February when wheat here hardly grew at all, adds Gail.

The Kansas wheat rating dropped to 53% good-excellent March 1, down from 75% in November, based on USDA reports. Oklahoma wheat also deteriorated, falling to 60% good-excellent from 80% last fall, notes Gail.

However, both these states are expecting heavy soaking rains on the weekend that would replenish dry fields and improve growth potential in hard red winter wheat, Gail forecasts. Waves of showers are predicted Sunday-Tuesday in western Kansas with a developing storm in the Central Rockies. This could be a big rain maker for the top US wheat state as the storm tracks slowly eastward, she adds.

In the Midwest soft wheat prospects are dismal, where the production outlook is constrained by a 29% cut in the planted area, says Gail. Wheat was planted late and was under-developed when winter dormancy set in. Illinois wheat has deteriorated in a stormy and cold winter, dropping to 28% good-excellent, 49% fair and 23% poor-very poor on March 1.

In the white wheat areas of the Pacific northwest, below-normal rainfall with El Nino is damaging for wheat potential, Gail observes. Available soil moisture for spring growth is reduced, because of sub-par winter precipitation, 25-35% below normal in Washington. Producers indicate yields will be down, unless spring showers are unusually heavy. Most of the annual precipitation occurs from November through March, so a winter drought is especially damaging for wheat, she says.

Overall it seems like a pretty mixed bag of outlooks for winter wheat. Whist Texas looks like it could be in for a bumper crop, the state only produces around 6% of the national crop.

The combination of cold temperatures and wet fields may well be delaying fieldwork in many other states.