Wheat hangs on as April’s rollercoaster weather continues

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The nation’s wheat crop has been struggling against cold spring weather, and the USDA’s first Crop Progress report of the year detailed the impact the late-March snow and cold-snap had on the crop.

Many central states reported high percentages of wheat in poor to very poor condition. South Dakota saw the highest percentage in the nation with 76 percent of wheat in these conditions. Other states with a struggling wheat crop include Nebraska (49 percent), Texas (49 percent), Colorado (42 percent) and Kansas (29 percent).

Winter wheat is off to its worst start in 11 year, affected by low soil moisture in the southern Plains. The national average is well-below last year's report of 58 percent in good to excellent condition. The current average for the nation's wheat in these conditions is 34 percent.

Much of the winter wheat crop in the Plains has been struggling against drought, making the young plants vulnerable to wild weather fluctuations. While recent snow and rain improved conditions, the crop is still seen as likely have shortened production potential. Freeze warnings in Texas and late-March snow to the north also impacted wheat conditions.

"I think we'll certainly have some (freeze damage)," said Travis Miller, an agronomist at Texas A&M University told Reuters in a report available here. "We did not dodge a bullet. It is a mess out there, both from freeze and drought."

This week showers across the Corn Belt could slow early corn planting but help wheat, according to Reuters.

"Temperatures will be cold again this week but not cold enough to hurt any wheat," said Kyle Tapley, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services.

Tapley said that in the Plains, however, more rain will help the wheat crop.

"Next week temperatures will be warming and it will be drier in the Midwest, so there is improved planting weather. And rains will be increasing in the Plains so that will help the wheat crop," he said.

Don Kenney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, said that as of March 23, 6 to 8 inches of rain were needed to replenish soil moisture levels in eastern Nebraska and northeastern Kansas. Read more.

These moisture levels have returned to normal from eastern Iowa and Missouri eastward, and the Crop Progress indicated wheat in much better condition in these areas. Missouri and Illinois in particular reported high percentages of wheat in good to excellent condition.

The best wheat conditions in the country, however, are along the Pacific coastline which has generally been spared from the worst of the drought. In California, 95 percent of wheat is in good to excellent conditions. Oregon (72 percent) and Washington (72 percent) also reported high percentages.

Read more from the Crop Progress report.

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