Rains 'too late' to revive drought-hit US wheat

The condition of drought-hit US winter wheat deteriorated further, dropping to it lowest rating in 18 years, fuelling concerns that rains slated for this week may come too late to foster a recovery in yield potential.

The proportion of US winter wheat rated "good" or "excellent" dropped 1 point to 30% in the week to Sunday, data from the US Department of Agriculture showed.

That was the lowest rating for the time of year since 1996, when 27% of US winter wheat was viewed as being "good" or "excellent".

And it again reflected deterioration in the central and southern Plains hard red winter wheat areas, where late frost as well as drought has increasingly emerged as a crop setback.

The condition of crops in the Midwest - which grows soft red winter wheat, as traded in Chicago actually improved in many areas, including in the important growing states of Illinois and Ohio.

'Evaluating replanting'

In the hard red winter wheat belt, the biggest decline in condition was again seen in Nebraska, where the proportion of crop rated "good" or "excellent" dropped seven points to 40%.

Selected state winter wheat ratings and (change on week)

Idaho: 86%, (+2 points)

Indiana: 69%, (+1 point)

Nebraska: 40%, (-7 points)

Kansas: 12%, (-1 point)

Texas: 11%, (unchanged)

Oklahoma: 5%, (-1 point)

Data: proportion rated good or excellent by USDA, May 18

The south west of the state "again received only limited amounts of rainfall and remained in severe to extreme drought", USDA scouts said noting also that "freezing temperatures were reported on multiple nights", a threat to a number of crops.

"Producers were assessing the impact on crops and evaluating if replanting was necessary."

In Kansas, the top US wheat growing state, the proportion of winter crop rated good or excellent dropped a further 1 point to 12%, again with frost compounding fears over the damage from drought.

"Concerns of possible freeze damage to corn and wheat were common across the eastern third of the state," USDA scouts said, noting that temperatures in many areas had fallen below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius).

They added that "spotty rains in central and eastern Kansas helped relieve drought pressure, but dry patterns in western Kansas continued".

'Disastered out'

In Oklahoma, deterioration in crop condition continued - with just 5% of winter wheat rated good or excellent, down 1 point week on week despite "moderate-to-heavy" rains which "helped stop the expansion of the drought eastward".

"However, little moisture was received in the areas that needed it most," USDA scouts said, noting that the spring (March 1 to date) had proven the driest since 1956 for the Panhandle and North Central areas of the state.

"Wheat fields in severe drought areas continued to be disastered out, baled for hay, or otherwise abandoned."

Commerzbank said: "The latest rainfall has not had the hoped-for positive impact on winter wheat plant quality in the US."

Too little, too late?

The decline in condition comes as further rains are expected this week for parts of the southern Plains.

"However, amounts are expected to be too light to significantly reduce long-term drought," said weather service MDA.

Furthermore, rainfall may also come "too late to improve yields for winter wheat in most areas".

At broker Benson Quinn Commodities, Brian Henry said: "The crop in the southern Plains won't benefit from the rains like it would have a couple of weeks ago," although "many areas will see some benefit".

The great majority of crops in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are already headed, limiting the scope for crop recovery, although only 17% of winter wheat in Nebraska has reached that stage.

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