Drought cuts Kansas wheat yield prospects to lowest since 2001, says tour

By Julie Ingwersen

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 1 (Reuters) – Wheat prospects in Kansas, the top U.S. producer of the grain, are the poorest in 13 years after months of drought and a bitterly cold winter, scouts on an annual tour of the state said on Thursday.

Scouts on the Wheat Quality Council’s tour of Kansas projected the state’s 2014 wheat yield at 33.2 bushels per acre, the tour’s lowest projected yield since 2001, following surveys of 587 fields across the state this week.

Scouts also estimated total wheat production in the state at 260.7 million bu. If realized, that would be the smallest production for Kansas since 1996, when the crop was 255.2 million bu.

“It is two to three weeks late, extremely short, and I am predicting they will have smaller heads than usual, which will reduce yields,” said Ben Handcock, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council. “I don’t think freeze damage is a real serious issue in Kansas. The issue is drought.”

A year ago, the average yield in Kansas was 38.0 bu. per acre and harvest was 319.2 million bu., according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The five-year tour averages are 41.8 bu. per acre and 328.1 million bu., respectively.

“This tour has a bias of coming in higher than the final NASS estimate,” said Dan Manternach, wheat analyst with Doane Advisory Services, referring to the USDA’s statistics group. “The point is, we are going to get a bullish number (from the tour), and history says that even that is optimistic.”

Prices for CME Group’s K.C. hard red winter wheat futures contracts, which track the crop grown in the Plains, rallied to their highest level in 13 ½ months this week as the bullish field reports came in from the tour.

Wheat futures set back on Thursday, caught up in a sell-off across the agricultural commodities sector as well as some profit taking, but the declines were limited by the concerns about the crop. K.C. hard red winter wheat for July delivery settled 8 ½ cents lower at $8.04 a bushel.

The U.S. Southern Plains wheat belt remains dry and a weekend heat wave will add stress to the maturing wheat crop as conditions continue to deteriorate, forecasters said on Thursday.

“If we don’t get rain in a week, we will be in trouble because heat is coming,” said Shayne Suppes, a farmer from Scott City in western Kansas, who was a scout on the tour. “I honestly think what we saw this week is better than what we will see at harvest.”

Suppes said that on his farm, he was hoping for a yield of 30 bu. per acre if it rains, compared with 50 bu. per acre in a normal year.

Temperatures are expected to climb into the low 30s C this weekend, with the heat continuing into Wednesday for the driest spots of the Southern Plains hard red winter wheat region, including central and southwestern Kansas, southeastern Colorado, western Oklahoma and western Texas.

“If this plays out you’re going to see some pretty significant yield impacts in the driest section of the belt,” said Joel Widenor, a senior meteorologist with Commodity Weather Group. “This is bad timing for those areas to be seeing this kind of weather.”

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, issued by state and federal climate experts on Thursday, said drought expanded across the Southern Plains in the past week. All of Kansas is in drought, with 24.68 percent in extreme to exceptional drought compared with 19.64 percent the week before.