USDA suspends weekly Crop Progress Reports at the end of November each year and they don’t resume until April. However, individual state divisions of NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) put out monthly updates beginning in January and Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, the key producing states for hard red winter wheat, have recently released them.

First, by way of review, let’s look at where conditions left off in late November. For winter wheat overall (HRW, SRW and white), the year-to-year situation shaped up as follows: Update on Southern Plains winter wheat conditions

As you can see, we ended last fall with 52 percent of winter wheat overall rated “good-to-excellent” and just 13 percent rated “poor-to-very poor.” That was a bit better than the fall of 2010 when 47 percent of the 2011 crop just entering dormancy was rated “good-to-excellent” and 17 percent was rated “poor-to-very poor.” Looking specifically at HRW wheat states TX, OK and KS, however, the year-to-year differences were less favorable: Update on Southern Plains winter wheat conditions

So Texas wheat went into dormancy last fall with just 25 percent rated good-to-excellent compared to 36 percent the year before. And 40 percent was rated poor-to-very poor compared to just 26 percent the year before. Update on Southern Plains winter wheat conditions

For Oklahoma, the year-to-year comparisons are mixed. Going into this winter, 56 percent was rated good-to-excellent, up from 44 percent the year before. But 10 percent was rated poor-to-very poor, up a bit from 8 percent the year before. But on balance, you’d have to say Oklahoma’s wheat was in a bit better shape than Fall, 2010. Update on Southern Plains winter wheat conditions

For Kansas, 47 percent of the wheat was rated good-to-excellent going into dormancy, up from 37 percent the year before. And just 13 percent was rated poor-to-very poor, significantly less than the 25 percent rated that poorly the year before. Overall then, KS conditions were definitely better than the year earlier.

The trouble was, with La Niña conditions firmly in place, most climatologists were predicting last Fall that drought conditions would persist (or even worsen) through dormancy and into February. While dormant wheat has very little need for additional moisture until the spring, the forecasts were ominous in that it would mean favorable spring weather would be utterly vital to restoring enough soil moisture for even average yield potential in 2012.

Here’s the January situation summed up for the three states discussed above: Update on Southern Plains winter wheat conditions

SUMMING UP: Despite dire Fall predictions that the three key HRW states drought would “persist or worsen” through dormancy and into next month, winter wheat condition ratings have improved since November. The improvements have been significant in Kansas and Oklahoma and slight in Texas. The fundamentals for the wheat sector are generally bearish in that:

1) The production outlook for 2012 (both U.S. and world-wide) has improved since fall.

2) The global wheat demand outlook for 2012 food use is still subject to threat from the European financial crisis.

3) The influence of rising corn prices on wheat demand as a feed grain substitute is limited and now dependent on continued deterioration in South American corn production.