US winter wheat ends 6-month run of deterioration

The US winter wheat crop ended an unbroken six-month spell of deterioration as rain relieved drought-hit crops in the southern Plains, just as dryness in the north allowed growers to undertake a huge level of spring sowings.

The US Department of Agriculture, in its much-watched weekly Crop Progress report, raised by 1 point to 30% the proportion of US winter wheat rated in "good" or "excellent" condition.

That remained the lowest reading since 1996, a reflection of the impact of drought and late frost in southern areas including Kansas, the top wheat producing state, where crop condition in fact continued to decline in the latest week, by 1 point to 11 points rated good or excellent.

However, that bucked the broader upward trend of crop condition the first recorded since early November.

'Somewhat relieved'

The improvement was led by soft red winter wheat, grown largely in the Midwest, which has remained in better condition than the southern Plains hard red winter wheat belt, and where, for instance Illinois crop was rated 65% good or excellent, up three points week on week.

However, winter wheat improved in some parts of the southern Plains too, notably in Texas, where the proportion rated in the top two bands rose by 1 point to 11%.

 "Winter wheat conditions improved in areas of the [state's own] northern high plains that received recent rainfall," USDA scouts said, flagging rainfall of 2-5 inches in the week to Sunday.

In Oklahoma, where drought has been particularly severe, crop at least stabilised at 5% rated good or excellent, and 78% poor or very poor, after "much-needed rainfall was received".

"Areas of the state that needed it the most were somewhat relieved," USDA scouts said, noting rains of up to 4.78 inches.

Too late?

Nonetheless, Oklahoma "wheat fields continued to be disastered out, baled for hay, or otherwise abandoned due to the severe drought and freeze damage", the scouts added.

Indeed, the rain is viewed as coming too late to promote a significant crop recovery.

"One can argue the benefits and timing the rains last week as early rainfall would have been much more beneficial," said Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities.

"However, many areas will benefit. The trade knows that it isn't going to be a good crop, but the recent rains may stabilise some of the later production and perhaps enhance quality."

'Rapid planting progress'

US wheat production prospects were also supported by a catch-up by farmers in the northern Plains on plantings, which were slowed earlier in the spring by excessive rains and cold.

In Minnesota, growers sowed 47% of their spring wheat in one week, equivalent to about 560,000 acres, to reach 67% completion, albeit still 21 points behind the pace.

"A season high of five days suitable for fieldwork allowed Minnesota farmers to make rapid planting progress during the week," USDA scouts said.

North Dakota farmers planted 34% of their wheat, equivalent to 2.0m acres besides sowing half of their corn, equivalent to 1.5m acres, plus roughly the same area in soybean seedings, and a further 300,000 acres or so in barley and oats.

Corn area losses?

The pick-up in plantings came, in corn, just as the prevent plant insurance deadlines hit, on May 25 for northern areas of the state, with a May 31 deadline for the south of North Dakota.

It helped raise to 88% the total figure for US corn sowings as of Sunday, in line with the average, and market expectations.

Still, there are expectations that some northern US area will be lost to corn either abandoned or switched to other crops, such as soybeans, which can be later seeded.

Still, losses of 1m acres in Minnesota and North Dakota, as some have suggested, appeared "too much", Mr Henry said.

He added a loss of output potential in these states "can be offset by better production in other areas".

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