Too Wet, Too Dry: Wheat Season Gets Off to a Mixed Start

The winter-grain planting period is drawing to a close across the Northern Hemisphere, and young crops across some of the world’s top exporters face a mixed bag of conditions. ( Farm Journal )

While British grain growers hope for a dry spell to speed up planting in rain-saturated fields, newly-sown farms on the other end of the continent in Ukraine are in need of a good soak before winter.

The winter-grain planting period is drawing to a close across the Northern Hemisphere, and young crops across some of the world’s top exporters face a mixed bag of conditions. Excess rain is slowing planting in parts of western Europe, while the east has seen too little -- as have the U.S. Plains. Powerhouse Russia, meanwhile, got off to a good start.

After sowing, wheat and barley will lie dormant as frigid temperatures set in, and the yields will ultimately be determined by spring weather. For now, here’s a roundup of conditions as the growing season for 2020-21 crops kicks off:

France: Wet

Much of northern France and Germany has seen higher-than-usual precipitation in the past 30 days. That’s delayed harvesting of summer crops like corn and put winter grain sowing behind schedule. France, the EU’s top soft-wheat grower, planted 54% of its crop as of Oct. 28, versus 70% last year, the latest FranceAgriMer figures show.

The soggy October may mean France’s acreage is steady or below last year’s level, versus expectations for a small uptick, said Agritel analyst Gautier Maupu. Still, the weather isn’t a huge concern and added moisture will ultimately aid crops.

“It’s not perfect conditions, but, in the end, rain is always good,” he said.

U.K.: Too Wet

Plantings here have also been dogged by fall rains. More ahead will “further increase wetness concerns,” according to forecaster Maxar. That’s helped boost futures of U.K. feed wheat, and may force some farmers to swap acreage for spring-sown barley instead, exacerbating a well-supplied market, according to the U.K.’s Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board.

“It started raining on the 22nd of September, and it hasn’t stopped since,” said Colin Rayner, who farms about 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) near Windsor, England. His fields saw 8 inches (20 centimeters) in October, setting planting three to four weeks behind schedule. Some ground may stay fallow unless there’s a drier stretch soon.

Russia: Just Right?

Russia -- the world’s top exporter -- may seed a record amount of winter-wheat at 16.3 million hectares, topping the all-time high set last year by 400,000 hectares, according to the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, or IKAR. Favorable temperatures and near-normal soil moisture, aside from some areas in the south and Volga Valley, helped most farmers sow within the ideal timeframe, said Oleg Sukhanov, IKAR’s chief of grains research.

Still, a cold snap with freezing temperatures and another warming expected before winter represent sharp temperature swings that may hurt plant development.

“The starting conditions are not bad,” Sukhanov said. “I wouldn’t call these conditions ideal but they are close to optimal.”

Ukraine: Too Dry

Conditions at the start of planting in August and September were too dry, according to consultant APK-Inform in Dnipro. While moisture in Ukraine has improved since, the planting window is closing and farmers may miss government expectations for 6.2 million hectares of winter wheat. Ministry data shows sowing reached 5.8 million hectares by Oct. 31, risking the smallest area since 2005, said Andriy Kupchenko, an analyst at APK-Inform.

Parts of Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary have also been hampered by a dry spell, the European Commission said this week.

U.S.: Too Dry

Expanding drought conditions are a concern for growers in the southern U.S. Plains, the top winter-wheat producing region in the country. Elevated levels of precipitation helped to boost yields and harvests this year, despite lower acreage. A return to the more typical arid conditions may limit crop potential in 2020.

“We’re actually quite concerned,” said Ken Horton, who grows wheat in Leoti, Kansas. “Moisture is our No. 1 factor that we dearly want to save and not waste away.”

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