The 2013/14 winter was extremely hard on the U.S. winter wheat crop. Last week, USDA resumed reporting weekly winter wheat condition ratings and the report shows a huge drop compared to the report released in November. The condition ratings index for this year’s crop as of April 6 is calculated at 201 compared to the November index of 261. The index is calculated with the following formula:

(% excellent * 4) + (% good * 3) + (% fair *2) + (% poor * 1) = crop condition index

Based on the last report in November 2013, the condition of the 2014 winter wheat crop was much better than the condition of the 2013 crop. The index reported at the end of November in 2012 for the 2013 crop came in at 204, more than 50 points below the comparable index for the 2014 crop. But that gap has eroded over the winter months. Now the index is 201 compared to an index of 199 in the first report last year.

Condition of winter wheat deteriorated over the winterThe initial winter wheat rating for 2014 is 35% good to excellent which is the fifth lowest initial spring rating on record. Worse were 1989, 1996, 2002, and 2013. Looking historically at all years when the first rating was less than 40% good or excellent, there are a total of 6 previous years. In all of those years, the Hard Red Winter wheat yield was below the trend yields. The least was 2.6 bushels per acre below trend in 2011. The largest deviation from trend was 6.1 bushels per acre in 1989.

The biggest problems are in the Plains states from Texas up through Nebraska. These states (TX, OK, KS, CO, and NE) account for nearly 60 percent of total U.S. winter wheat acreage. The condition indices in these states dropped sharply from November to April, led by a 137 point drop in Oklahoma. Nearly half of the crop in Oklahoma is now rated poor or very poor compared to just 5 percent in those two categories in November. But the condition index is even lower in Texas with more than 60 percent of the crop rated in the two bottom categories. The condition index for the Texas crop fell by 71 points from November to April to 131. The condition ratings for the 2014 crop are actually worse than they were at this time last year in Oklahoma and Texas.

Condition of winter wheat deteriorated over the winterWinter weather was especially hard on the crop over the last few months. Drought conditions got considerably worse over the winter with several key parts of Texas and Oklahoma now reporting exceptional drought, the highest category reported. It was also very cold this winter and winter kill was more extensive than is normally the case. In places where winter kill occurred, the crop won’t recover even if spring weather improves dramatically.

Last year sorghum acreage came in about 1.5 million to 2 million acres above “normal” as farmers replaced failed wheat acreage. That may happen again this year. The condition ratings suggest that there are areas in the Plains states where wheat production prospects are poor, which will lead to higher than normal abandonment and may boost acreage of alternative crops, like sorghum and hay.