Drought threatens U.S. wheat

CHICAGO, Ill. – Clear skies for much of April helped farmers in the northern U.S. Plains get a big jump on planting small grains, but some are starting to worry about the lack of rain.

“There is talk about it, more and more each day,” said Leland Barth of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

“The dry conditions have allowed for virtually no planting delays, so that has been a positive for most guys. However, now that the crop is in, they’re concerned about moisture,” Barth said.

The Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana produce the bulk of the U.S. spring wheat crop, a high quality variety used in bread flour.

The region also grows durum, used for pasta.

Thanks to dry weather across most of the region, the U.S. spring wheat crop was 46 percent planted as of April 25, well ahead of the five-year average of 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Barth predicted that USDA’s next weekly progress report would show the U.S. crop 60-65 percent planted.

However, soil moisture reserves are dangerously low in many areas, particularly South Dakota. So without timely spring and summer rains, crops will not develop.

“This year we don’t have a lot of subsoil moisture, so we are relying almost totally in some areas upon the seasonal moisture that we get from now through the rest of the growing season,” South Dakota State University extension agronomist Bob Hall said.

“Put it this way, it’s not encouraging when you have to rely upon seasonal moisture to bring the crop through,” he said.

Because small grains such as wheat and barley tend to tolerate drought better than corn and soybeans, some plains farmers might alter their cropping plans in the coming days.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see some more grain go in,” Hall said.

Weather forecasts for the northern Plains showed little relief in sight.

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