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Drought in US wheat areas provokes Dust Bowl talk

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Weather forecasts offer little relief from drought for a US winter wheat crop which data overnight showed deteriorating further to a fresh seasonal low, and prompting comparisons to the Dust Bowl years.

"No important rain is expected this week" for the US areas, largely in the Plains, growing hard red winter wheat, which accounts for more than half the US wheat crop, Gail Martell at Martell Crop Projections said.

Nor is precipitation expected further ahead, with weather service saying that while a cold front in the six-to-10 day outlook "could bring portions of the upper Plains a decent snow fall, areas south of this LOW's track will stay dry and mild.

And heading into December "while the Upper Plains and Midwest look to turn seasonally cold, the pattern does not show a cold air getting into any portion of the central and lower Plains," said.

Longer-term, the US Climate Prediction Center said last week that this summer's US drought, billed as the worst in 56 years, would persist in the Plains and parts of the Midwest at least until February, likely spreading into Texas too.

'Vulnerability to weather extremes'

The lack of moisture has sparked comparisons with the US Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, stoked by a US televisions series on PBS which Richard Feltes, vice-president, research at broker RJ O'Brien, said "certainly serves as a reminder of US vulnerability to weather extremes".

Wheat condition in selected states, and (change on week)

California: 90%, (+20 points)

Oregon: 39%, (-24 points)

Kansas: 30%, (-3 points)

Colorado: 19%, (-12 points)

Nebraska: 17%, (+2 points)

South Dakota: 4%, (+1 point)

Data: % rated good or excellent. Source: USDA

"Field moisture is depleted through a deep soil layer," she said, noting "at least one incidence of blowing dirt has developed this fall", as seen on satellite images in late October.

"Drought of this nature is not unprecedented, occurring in a cluster of years in the 1950s and the historic Dust Bowl."

'Extremely dry conditions'

The comments came as the US Department of Agriculture revealed a further deteriorating in US winter wheat seedlings, rating 34% in "good" or "excellent" as of Sunday, down two points on the week, and the lowest pre-dormancy figure on records going back to the 1980s.

A year ago – during an autumn itself viewed as giving seedlings a poor start - 50% of the crop was viewed as being in good or excellent condition.

The deterioration reflected a sharp drop in ideas of the health of the crops in the north west states of Washington and Oregon, where the USDA staff noted that storms "brought strong winds and rain to the Coast, causing several road closures and power outrages; flood warnings have been issued".

Among more significant wheat areas, crop condition fell in the top growing state of Kansas, and in Colorado, where "soil moisture ratings continue to show that extremely dry conditions persist".


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