U.S. Wheat Associates provides assessment on crop conditions

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The winter wheat crop is dormant, but the U.S. wheat production regions have soldiered through harsh winter conditions the year. As spring approaches and wheat begins to break dormancy, buyers will find value in regular crop condition reports.

In fact, USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reflected on the potential effect of severe winter weather in its March 2 state crop progress reports. That will be the last monthly report before weekly crop progress reports resume in two weeks.

Experience teaches market watchers that it is still too early to know the specific impact of weather on yield potential. Yet, we believe it worthwhile to evaluate crop conditions at this important time for winter wheat. What follows is a summary of crop conditions from state wheat commission members combined with NASS information. Look for updates as the crop pushes into this spring.

For information on states not listed below, find State Crop Progress and Conditions reports at http://1.usa.gov/1gczSXv.

Idaho (HRW, SW, HW, durum): According to Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission, nearly two-thirds of Idaho's wheat crop is irrigated, so snowpack and resulting spring runoff that fill reservoirs are always a major concern. December and January were very dry but a series of storms in February should refill reservoirs to about 80 percent of capacity. That is likely enough to prevent irrigation curtailments later in the growing season.

Nearly one-third of the state's production is not irrigated. This is mainly in northern Idaho, which received sufficient moisture. Dryland farms in eastern Idaho, accounting for less than 5 percent of production, remain extremely dry. Overall, Idaho expects a good wheat crop this year.

Kansas (HRW, HW): Conditions deteriorated significantly between November and January when extremely cold temperatures likely stressed a crop that was unprotected by snow. As a result, crop condition ratings declined in February, but ratings are still significantly better than last year at this time. According to Kansas Wheat Chief Executive Officer Justin Gilpin, conditions and moisture levels are still both below average as the crop is nearing time to break dormancy.

The percentage rated poor to very poor increased from January's ratings from 20 to 22 percent in February, compared to 36 percent in 2013. The percent rated good or excellent fell from 35 to 34, still well above last year's rating of 23 percent.

Montana (HRW, HRS, durum): Crop conditions overall improved in February and ratings remain considerably higher than last year. The percentage of winter wheat rated good or excellent increased from 46 last month to 53 this month, compared to 38 percent last year at this time.

Both topsoil and subsoil moisture levels improved in February and remain above last year. Although it is still very early in the year to assess, the percentage of the crop potentially damaged by wind, freeze or drought conditions increased slightly this month but remains well below last year's ratings. Overall, the current winter wheat conditions in Montana are very good.

Oklahoma (HRW): It did snow in most of Oklahoma in February but high winds in central and southern Oklahoma evaporated soil moisture and intensified drought conditions. The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor depicted the majority of the state in extreme drought or as abnormally dry, with the panhandle and far southwest districts rated in extreme to exceptional drought.

The percentage of the winter wheat crop rated good or excellent dropped from 36 to 31 while the percentage rated poor or very poor increased from 24 to 31. Last year at this time, USDA rated only 9 percent of the crop as good or excellent and 54 percent as poor or very poor.

According to Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, the crop in most areas has broken dormancy, but many producers remain concerned about potential yield losses. USDA rated topsoil and subsoil moisture conditions at 87 percent and 83 percent short to very short, respectively.

Oregon (SW, HW): According to Blake Rowe, chief executive officer of the Oregon Wheat Commission, fall seeding conditions were good but the winter was dry until recently. Some frost damage is likely but the extent will not be known until the crop fully emerges from dormancy. He said the wheat crop will largely depend on the amount of rain that comes between now and early May.

South Dakota (HRW, HRS, HW, durum): Although the crop is still dormant, winter wheat condition rated 4 percent very poor, 7 poor, 26 fair, 58 good and 5 excellent. That is a big change from last year at this time when USDA rated 66 percent of the state's crop as poor or very poor.

According to Randy Englund, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, moisture levels were very good at planting and into dormancy. Moist soil has higher specific heat than dry soil, so it is not as sensitive to temperature fluctuations and plants that are adequately hydrated are better able to withstand low temperatures.

Additionally, farmers sow the majority of South Dakota's winter wheat into crop residue (no-till fields) that provides insulation, slows down the wind at the soil surface and traps snow, which is an excellent insulator. Good snow cover over much of the region has protected the crop.

Washington (HRW, HRS, SW, HW): There may be winterkill in some of Washington's wheat crop due to the limited snow cover, extreme cold and wind in early December. According to Scott Yates, director of communications and producer relations at the Washington Grain Commission, farmers had to replant many fields last fall and moisture levels have been below normal the entire winter.

Those replanted fields are in worse condition than those planted earlier. However, recent rains have helped improve moisture levels and more precipitation is expected. Producers remain cautiously optimistic about the crop's potential in part because, in tests, plants pulled from fields and replanted in greenhouses emerged from dormancy and looked healthy.

Wyoming (HRW, HRS, HW): According to Keith Kennedy, executive director of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission, much of the crop was planted late but also into soils with the best moisture conditions in many years. More moisture should be ahead because March, April and May are the wettest three months in the state on average. Winter wheat conditions are very good with only 2 percent of the crop rated as poor and 76 percent rated good or excellent.

Virginia (SRW): According to Ben Rowe, managing director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association, February was another cold and snowy month in Virginia with parts of the state approaching record-breaking lows. Most of Virginia snow covered during the month and it rained on some of the warm days. The majority of small grains are in good to fair condition with sufficient tillers and growth.

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