2011 Hard Red Winter Wheat Tour Underway


OMAHA (DTN) — The driest growing season in years has dominated the discussion of Kansas’s wheat crop in recent weeks, but scouts attending this week’s yield-scouting tour will likely see a “mixed bag” of crop conditions, the tour’s organizer said.

“I think we’re going to see everything you can imagine and then some,” said Ben Handcock, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, which organizes the tour of Kansas’s hard red winter wheat fields every year. He expects to see good-quality wheat in west-central and eastern Kansas. But as the tour moves west, he expects blue stems, thin stands and wheat in desperate need of a drink.

The tour gives the first comprehensive picture of Kansas’s wheat crop and will be closely followed by farmers, food makers and traders — commercial and speculative alike. Global wheat stocks are being drawn down faster than they’re being replenished and the global implications for food prices have heightened the interest in this year’s tour, which begins scouting on Tuesday. Handcock said 73 participants is a new record and the growth comes from traders and international interests. Scouts are coming from Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and all over the United States.

“I think they all want to see if the wheat in Kansas is as bad as they say it is,” Handcock said. “They’re all looking. The price is good, and what if we don’t raise as much wheat as we think we’re going to have? What’s going to happen to the price? Everybody is trying to outguess this thing. I think they’re sending people out to see what’s here.”

Crop conditions across the hard-red-winter-wheat-growing area are the worst since the 2002-03 growing season with 40{dfeadfe70caf58f453a47791a362966239aaa64624c42b982d70b175f7e3dda2} of the nation’s crop rated poor to very poor as of April 25. Drought has decimated Texas’s crop, with 72{dfeadfe70caf58f453a47791a362966239aaa64624c42b982d70b175f7e3dda2} rated in poor to very poor condition and Oklahoma is just as bad. Mike Schulte, CEO of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said he agrees with the condition rating that puts his state’s crop at 75{dfeadfe70caf58f453a47791a362966239aaa64624c42b982d70b175f7e3dda2} poor to very poor, although there are a few bright spots along I-35. He said wheat looks OK along the Kansas border because of recent rains. Tour participants will survey that area on Wednesday.

Kansas’s wheat crop isn’t uniformly poor: More than half of it is rated in good or fair condition, while 44{dfeadfe70caf58f453a47791a362966239aaa64624c42b982d70b175f7e3dda2} is rated poor or very poor. Western counties face drought conditions on par with Texas, but parts of eastern and central Kansas received rains when they were most needed. In other parts of the state, wheat didn’t emerge before it went dormant, which reduces yield, “but it can still make some wheat if it would rain on it,” Handcock said. “You might get 25-bushel wheat, but that’s better than nothing.”

Kansas seeded 8.8 million acres of HRW wheat this year, but many farmers are considering plowing their wheat under. David Reed, RCIS crop insurance claims supervisor for north-central Kansas, said his district has 198 open claims, and most appraisals over 8 bushels per acre are being kept. His counterpart in western Kansas has 269 open claims, compared to 30 at this time last year.

“It could be a long year. Right now the insureds don’t know whether to destroy the wheat or keep it because of price,” Reed said. “With $8.30 wheat around here, that’s $66/acre that they throw away if they just destroy the wheat and don’t cut it. Even if they have to hire it cut, it pays and then it cleans the field off.”

Some farmers still hold out hope of planting a spring crop, but desperately need rain to do so.

The national rate of abandonment could be higher than in 2002-2003 when harvested acreage was 29{dfeadfe70caf58f453a47791a362966239aaa64624c42b982d70b175f7e3dda2} less than what was planted. In a typical year, abandonment runs about 19{dfeadfe70caf58f453a47791a362966239aaa64624c42b982d70b175f7e3dda2}, according to DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom. The 2002-2003 growing season was similar to this year’s, with an August and September that were much drier than average and little improvement into May.

“Unfortunately, both the 2002-2003 and 2011-2012 crops seem to run counter to the old adage, ‘plant in the dust and the bins will bust,’” Newsom said. Although this crop year shares characteristics with 2002-2003, unaccounted-for differences could result in very different outcomes.

“Taking the shortcomings of the analogous-year analysis into account, projected estimates using 2002-2003 results are sobering,” Newsom said.

“Instead of yield seeing the normal 0.6 bpa increase, the national average dropped 5.2 bpa from 2001-2002. Using similar numbers for 2011 puts harvested acres at 29.2 million, which would be the smallest harvested winter wheat area since 1917. Furthermore, if yield sees a like percentage decrease, the average could be close to 41.2 bpa, putting total production at just over 1.2 billion bushels, the second-smallest production level over the last 40 years and trailing only the 1.14 bb in 2002,” he said.

In May 2002, wheat tour scouts pegged Kansas’s average yield at 35.6 bpa; official totals put Kansas yield at 33 bpa. Last year, the tour estimated an average yield of 40.7 bpa, but NASS’s official average was 45 bpa. Scouts estimate yield using a formula that counts the number of tillers, or wheat stems, in 3 feet of a row and accounts for crop condition and location. For the most part, estimates are taken before wheat has headed or starting filling its kernels, and a lot can happen to change the trajectory of yield during that time, so the tour’s estimates don’t always agree with USDA’s final production numbers. USDA will release its first wheat production estimate on May 11.

Every year, scouts drive the same routes and estimate the state’s average yield and production from data gathered from about 500 fields. Each evening, data from all 18 vehicles will be combined to create the average yield for that leg of the tour. On Thursday, the tour will release its statewide yield and production estimates.

Here’s what the schedule looks like:

– Tuesday: Manhattan to Colby, with one route hitting Nebraska’s southern-most counties. Colorado, Nebraska give updates.

– Wednesday: Colby to Wichita, with one route surveying northern Oklahoma. Oklahoma, Texas give updates.

– Thursday: Wichita to Kansas City. After close of the market, tour releases statewide yield and production estimates.

DTN reporter Katie Micik will be tweeting her observations from the field. Follow her at @KatieMDTN to see her latest updates or to ask her questions.

Katie Micik can be reached at katie.micik@telventdtn.com


© Copyright 2011 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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