Serious challenges ahead for this year’s wheat crop

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After seeing confirmation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) for January that wheat stocks are declining, market watchers turned their attention to the next crop.

The news from the world's largest wheat exporting country is not very good.

With some local exceptions, the stubborn grip of a drought that established itself in Texas four years ago is expanding in the U.S. hard red winter (HRW) wheat production region and now threatens some hard red spring (HRS) wheat areas as well.

In its "Wheat Beat" blog this week, Kansas Wheat wrote that the state's 2013/14 wheat crop is likely to be smaller because of dry conditions and planted area that is down 200,000 acres from last year.

Rain and snow here and there may perk up the dormant crop come spring, but southwestern Kansas wheat farmer Jason Ochs said it will take normal rainfall the rest of this season just to produce an average crop. That is because sub-soil moisture is as dry as it has been in 60 years. The prime wheat production area of northern and western Oklahoma is also in exceptional to extreme drought, though the severity has diminished recently in southeastern Oklahoma and parts of Texas.

Unfortunately, long-range forecasts do not anticipate much change and the lack of precipitation expected this winter threatens the Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming wheat crops. USDA estimates that nearly 50 percent of the Nebraska and South Dakota wheat crops are in poor to very poor conditions. And a Nebraska climatologist recently said it will take a record-breaking snowfall for the winter wheat crop to have a chance at success - an event that is highly unlikely.

The forecast does not look promising for spring wheat growers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana where dry conditions to the east and south settled in this winter. So far, the weather has been more kindly to spring and winter wheat growers in the Pacific Northwest and most of the eastern soft red winter production regions.

This drought, so reminiscent of the "The Worst Hard Time" of the 1930s, is testing the resolve of many wheat growers. Yet winter wheat can endure much hardship and many weeks remain before it is time to seed spring wheat. Buyers, like the farmers that grow the wheat, would be wise to plan for challenges and hope for the best.

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