Abandonment might be biggest story in U.S. spring wheat

Last week’s U.S. Wheat Quality Council annual spring wheat tour confirmed crop yields would be lower than usual but maybe not as small as some farmers thought.

The tour pegged average spring wheat yield at 38.1 bushels per acre and durum at 39.7 bu. It did not issue a forecast for total production.

Wheat yields in the high 30s don’t seem to match the scenario of extreme drought in the Dakotas and Montana.

For spring wheat, the 38.1 bu. per acre is down from last year’ bumper crop of 47.2 bu. per acre. Indeed, the United States has had a string of good spring wheat crops, and the five-year average is a strong 46.4 bu. per acre.

The council’s estimate is 18 percent below the five-year average.

If that still seems high, there are several considerations to note.

North Dakota is the largest spring wheat producer, and its production is concentrated in the northern and eastern part of the state. The moisture deficit there is not as bad as in the western area.

As well, today’s varieties are possibly more drought resistant, and there was good subsurface moisture going into the growing season.

However, yield is just one part of final production. So is harvested area.

The current U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate of spring wheat seeded area is 10.899 million acres. It forecasts 3.7 percent won’t be harvested.

That is slightly worse than the recent trend, but conditions this year are far worse than the recent trend.

The spring wheat tour noted a large number of fields already cut and baled for feed because the yield potential was not worth combining.

In the 2000s, the previous worst year for spring wheat production was 2002, when abandonment was 14.5 percent, or 2.27 million acres.

Going back to the granddaddy drought of 1988, the abandonment rate was more than 21 percent.

If you used the council’s yield forecast of 38.1 bu. per acre and the 2002 abandonment rate of 14.5 percent, you’d get 9.32 million acres harvested with total production of about 355 million bu.

That is 63 million bu., or 1.7 million tonnes less than the current USDA forecast.

If you used the 1988 abandonment rate and the tour yield, you’d have 8.578 million harvested acres producing a crop of about 32.7 million bu.

That would be about 95 million bu. less than the current USDA forecast, or 2.59 million tonnes.

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