SW Kansas wheat prospects worst in over a decade

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Yield prospects for winter wheat in drought-hit southwestern Kansas are the poorest in more than a decade, potentially tightening global supplies of high-quality milling wheat, scouts on an annual tour of the top U.S. wheat state said Wednesday.

Scouts sampled 271 fields of hard red winter wheat between Colby and Wichita on the second day of the Wheat Quality Council's three-day Kansas tour. They projected an average yield of 30.8 bushels per acre (bpa), down from 37.1 a year ago.

That figure is the lowest for the tour's second day in Wheat Quality Council records dating back to the year 2000.

Field estimates for Wednesday ranged from 7 to 63 bpa.

Kansas and much of the southern Plains hard red winter wheat production belt have been gripped by severe drought for several months. The western third of the state and the "panhandle" regions of Oklahoma and Texas have been hit particularly hard.

Also, due to a bitterly cold winter, the Kansas crop is maturing about two weeks later than normal and plants in most fields are short, ranging from 6 to 14 inches (15.2 to 35.6 cm) high. Topsoil in most of southwestern Kansas was powdery dry.

"The poorer fields are not going to bounce back. They will be half of what they are today if we don't get rain in the next 10 days," said Darwin Ediger, a producer near Meade, Kansas, and president of the Kansas Crop Improvement Association.Ediger's son Tyler said Meade County, in southwest Kansas, received only about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain between Jan. 1 and the end of April, 16 percent of normal.

Given the stress that the crop has endured, scouts and local farmers fretted over forecasts for unseasonably hot temperatures early next week.

"We are looking at mid 90s to lower 100s (degrees Fahrenheit) in much of the southern and central Plains Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with high winds. As close to the edge as this crop is, that could be the very thing that does in much of the crop," said Arlan Suderman, market analyst with Water Street Solutions.

The tour's cumulative two-day average yield is 32.8 bushels per acre, based on samples of 542 fields. Last year's cumulative two-day average was 40.5 bushels per acre.

Scouts inspected wheat fields in northern Kansas on Tuesday, with yield prospects down 21 percent from a year ago.

The tour is scheduled to release a final yield forecast for Kansas on Thursday after 2 p.m. CST (1900 GMT), after sampling fields in the state's southeastern portion.

Kansas produces hard red winter wheat, the largest U.S. wheat class, which is typically milled into flour for bread. The United States is the world's largest wheat exporter.

Traders see global wheat supplies as adequate, but a harvest shortfall in Kansas will restrict supplies of high-quality hard wheat that some buyers require.

"It does shrink the safety net against problems elsewhere in the world, particularly for quality milling wheat. If we do have problems elsewhere, be it on the production end, or shipping out of the Black Sea because of the problems there, or Australia - anywhere that produces higher protein wheat - then you could get some fireworks in the wheat market," said Suderman.

Most-active July KC hard red winter wheat futures settled up 10 cents Wednesday at $8.12-1/2 per bushel. The contract is up more than 4 percent for this week, partly on the tour's findings.

Oklahoma Drought

Drought has also slashed prospects for wheat in Oklahoma, the second-largest U.S. producer of hard red winter wheat.

An annual crop tour of Oklahoma this week organized by the Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association projected the Oklahoma wheat yield at 18.52 bushels per acre, which if realized would be the state's lowest since 1967. The Oklahoma tour pegged production at 66.5 million bushels, based on 3.59 million acres harvested.

The figures compare to Oklahoma's final 2013 wheat yield of 31.0 bpa and production of 105.4 million bushels from a harvested area of 3.4 million acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"One of the saddest thing about this crop in Oklahoma is, for the most part we started out with a really good root system and pretty good tillers ... But then somebody shut the spigot off on us," said Mark Hodges of Plains Grains, a grower's group, who shared the Oklahoma findings with the Kansas tour scouts in Wichita.


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