Wetter conditions temper fears of poor winter wheat crop

Winter wheat prospects have improved dramatically in the United States, say industry executives.

The crop got off to a rocky start with a dry fall followed by a two-week spell of wickedly cold winter temperatures.

But it has rebounded nicely with well-timed rains arriving just as the crop was coming out of dormancy, said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer with Kansas Wheat.

Kansas received widespread rains that delivered 38 to 100 millimetres of moisture across the entire state last week and more rain fell March 22.

“Conditions have improved quite a bit, (but) not to the extent the crop is made,” he said.

“We still have a long ways to go but certainly this put us in a position that there’s a lot more optimism about the hard red winter wheat crop.”

Almost the entire U.S. HRWW area received timely precipitation, with the exception of the western part of the Dakotas and southeastern Colorado.

Gilpin anticipates the U.S. Department of Agriculture will give the crop a good overall rating in its April 5 Crop Progress report.

That is a far cry from a month ago when things were looking grim after a cold snap delivered record low temperatures in many key HRWW growing regions of the country.

Winter wheat crops are also looking much better than anticipated in the Black Sea region.

SovEcon recently upped its Russian wheat crop forecast to 79.3 million tonnes from 76.2 million tonnes due to mild winter conditions and ample precipitation in the south of the country.

It also bumped up its Ukrainian wheat crop estimate to 27.8 million tonnes from 27 million tonnes.

But it is the U.S. crop that has shown the biggest turnaround. Gilpin is hearing that record numbers of cattle are being pulled off winter wheat fields in Oklahoma and Texas because wheat prices are good and yield prospects have greatly improved.

That will result in higher-than-usual harvested acres in those two states.

Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said moisture conditions in his state are much better than they have been compared to the last 10 or 15 years.

“Overall, we’ve had exceptional moisture in most areas,” he said.

There was enough snow cover that the crop was able to survive a two-week winter cold snap that saw temperatures plummet below -30 C.

Oklahoma appears to be emerging from a long-term drought that started in 2006.

“Things look very favourable,” he said. “It’s a big deal for us.”

U.S. farmers planted an estimated 31.9 million acres of winter wheat, up five percent over last year’s levels.

Analysts were fearing the crop was headed for big trouble before the rains came.

Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist with StoneX, said Commodity Weather Group’s spring forecast for the March-through-May period was not looking good.

It showed that Texas and the western half of Oklahoma and Kansas will receive below normal precipitation during that period and it will be blazing hot in Texas.

“This does not bode well for hard red winter wheat production and the market is certainly watching that,” Suderman said during a recent market outlook webinar.

Then he looked at the North American Multi-Model Ensemble summer forecast, which shows worsening drought and more heat for the entire Plains region in the June through August period.

Suderman acknowledged the model tends to have a hot bias but it has also done a good job of predicting recent above-normal temperature summers.

He doesn’t like to “stroke the bull” about summer weather in March but it has already been dry in all but the southeast portion of the HRWW belt, so he expects traders to be laser-focused on Plains weather for the next 90 days.

But again, those words were uttered before the much-needed rain fell from the sky.

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