Drought Drops Wheat Yield to Lowest in Decades


by Emily Unglesbee, DTN Staff Reporter

WICHITA, Kan. (DTN) — Yield potential deteriorated as the HRW wheat tour moved through southwestern and southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma on Wednesday, the tour's second day.

Scouts stopped at 271 fields and produced an average yield of 30.8 bushels per acre, below last year's average yield of 37.1 bpa for the second day of the tour. Yesterday, the tour moved through central and north-central Kansas and produced an average yield of 34.7 bpa, the lowest yield average for that route since 2001.

Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains, estimated extreme drought will limit Oklahoma's total wheat production to 66.5 million bushels on an average yield of 18.5 bpa, compared to 105 mb last year. “We had as good a crop this fall as we've had in five years,” Hodges said. “Then someone turned the spigot off on us.”

This year, some of the top wheat-producing counties in Kansas have seen significant drought damage. Last year, routes through counties like Harper, Reno, and Sumner produced average yields ranging from the mid-30s to 40 bpa. This year, those same routes came back with yield averages ranging from the upper 20s to the low 30s.

Descriptions of extremely short, headed wheat streamed in from scouts as the tour moved south and east and found wheat heading at heights ranging from 5 to 15 inches. “The crop is in survival mode,” tour leader Dave Green noted.

Short wheat affects more than yield, tour experts said. “If you have to cut 12-inch wheat with a 40-foot header, you're not going to have very much residue,” tour organizer Ben Handcock said. “That's going to be a serious issue, I think.”

“The status of that residue impacts our cropping decisions in terms of wheat goes to continuous crop or how much land goes to fallow and how much goes to row crops,” Lucas Haag, an agronomist with Kansas State, added. “How this crop goes will impact acreage shifts for the next crop.”

Uneven stands became increasingly common as scouts moved into southwestern Kansas. Max Engler, a dryland farmer in Deerfield, Kan., said if scouts didn't spread out within fields, they could have overestimated yield potential.

“The dryland wheat in our area started out with a very good stand but now most fields are very uneven,” he told DTN in an e-mail. “The bad spots started on the edge of the fields and now have spread further into the field. There are very few fields left that have a consistent stand across the whole field. These bad areas in the field will not recover very well even if we receive good rains.”

Market action indicates traders suspect more damage than is being reported, said DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom. “The KC July to Sep spread is closing in on par and possibly a move to an inverse. That is an incredibly bullish supply and demand situation, something you don't often see in winter wheat. The market is telling us it believes there is more damage than the wheat tour is indicating.”

Scouts moving through far western and southern counties of Kansas reported a number of fields so low yielding that harvesting them might result in a net loss. Options for growers with destroyed acres like these are limited because of the drought, Haag noted.

Replanting is unlikely, which makes abandonment of acres futile. “Abandonment is really a moot point, because if we don't have enough moisture to raise wheat, what are we going to plant?” Haag said. “The producers I'm working with aren't looking to make abandonment decisions anytime soon, because there really isn't any other option other than to take it to harvest or take it as far as they can, and if they get a release from insurance that will save the harvesting cost, that's probably the best way to go.”

In Oklahoma, growers face a similar dilemma. “Producers don't have any options — if they try to work that ground, it will start eroding,” Hodges said.

Hodges said despite some freeze damage, drought in Oklahoma remains the primary yield limiter. “We've had a lot of freeze damage starting to show up in Oklahoma, but I still say the freeze damage pales in comparison to what the drought has done,” he said. “In that D3, D4 (drought) ground, those guys are dealing with drought since 2010. There is no moisture in the soil profile.”

Handcock said scouts saw soil piling up in empty fields as winds blew across the northern Oklahoma plains. “It looked like sand dunes,” he said. “Dirt piled up around single weeds standing in the fields.” Handcock said the fields were too buried to know whether they were originally wheat or fallow acres.

Hodges said the Texas wheat situation is even more dire. “Basically D4 drought covers the whole Texas Panhandle and that dryland wheat is toast, and the western edge of Oklahoma's D4 (drought) ground is the same way,” he said. “There's still some irrigated wheat in the Texas Panhandle, but about 55{0a3336b3da8cf935de4f3eb78fe29508c4b8b5ebd27d01af2d815614325d533e} of HRW produced in Texas comes out of the panhandle.”

Concerns for a hard freeze on Wednesday morning didn't pan out, and DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said temperatures could drop again overnight, but not severely. “I wouldn't absolutely rule out any kind of freeze conditions tonight, but I don't think it will be a big deal,” he said.

Tomorrow, on the final day of the tour, scouts will move through southeast Kansas and end the tour in Kansas City, where they will calculate the total estimated average yield for the 2014 winter wheat crop.

You can use this map to follow the tour's routes, which stay the same each year in order to produce reliable data: http://www.dtn.com/…

*Editor's Note: DTN Staff Reporter Emily Unglesbee is tweeting live results from the tour. Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

© Copyright 2014 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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