US winter wheat seedlings, whose condition deteriorated further last week, face yet further tests from poor weather, including "truly impressive" cold and "way below normal" precipitation prospects.
US Department of Agriculture scouts overnight revealed a further decline in the condition of winter wheat last week in the southern Plains, the main area for growing hard red winter wheat used mainly in making bread.
In Kansas, the country's top wheat-growing state, the proportion of seedlings in "good" or "excellent condition fell by 3 points to 34% in the week to Sunday, as crops again faced "windy conditions and limited precipitation".
"Available soil moisture continued to be a concern going into the spring," USDA scouts said.
While Kansas wheat is in better condition than a year ago, when the US was still recovering from the 2012 drought and the proportion of crop rated good or excellent was at 29%, the average for mid-March in the previous five years is 46%.
'Wildfires a major concern'
In Oklahoma, where the proportion of the state seen as suffering drought rose 18 points to 81% in the week to March 11, the amount of winter wheat rated as good or excellent by dropped four points to 18% in the week to Sunday.
"Due to warmer weather, dry air and high winds, wildfires were a major concern," USDA scouts said.
In Texas, the proportion of wheat placed in the top two bands slumped by 15 points to 13%. Even though the week-before figure was seen as anomalous, the rating is 2 points lower than on March 3.
And in Colorado, wheat was rated at 35% good or excellent, down 8 points over two weeks.
"There were reports of high winds last week with localised damage to winter wheat."
'Moisture shortages will build'
The ratings come at a critical time for seedlings, which are beginning to emerge from dormancy, increasing their needs for moisture to power crop development.
"As winter wheat emerges from dormancy, much of the hard red production area has seen less than 0.5 inches of rain in March," Mark Welch at Texas A&M University said.
However, the forecast for the next 5 to 7 days "calls for dry conditions to continue".
Weather service MDA said that "moisture shortages will continue to build across the central and southern Plains as rains remain very limited there through the next 10 days," adding that "dryness will also expand across the southern Midwest".
At WxRisk.com, David Tolleris forecast a "truly impressive" cold temperature anomaly in the six-to-10 day outlook.
"There are no other ways to describe this outbreak of cold air coming," he said.
"Obviously it's not going to be as cold as what we would see in January or early February but relative to normal the blast of cold air coming in on all the models in the six-to-10 day looks pretty darn impressive."
And this cold weather bodes ill for rainfall hopes too.
"Not surprisingly with this sort of pattern, it's very hard to get any sort of moisture across any portion of the Plains and the Midwest, so the precipitation anomalies look way below normal as well."