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Dryness saps winter wheat condition in major US growing states


Winter wheat condition deteriorated this month in top US growing states, amid a drier turn in weather in southern Plains states, although moisture further north has enabled some recovery.


Monthly US Department of Agriculture briefings showed that “US winter wheat crop conditions declined, to remind the market of worries about 2020 crops,” said Tobin Gorey at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.


US wheat production prospects for this year have already been undermined by a drop in sowings to the smallest since 1909.


The proportion of winter wheat rated “good” or “excellent” in Kansas, the top US winter wheat-growing state, fell by 6 points month on month to 34%, amid dryness which saw 32% of topsoil rated “short” or “very short” of moisture.


The latest reading for Kansas – which was responsible for some 18% of the overall US wheat harvest last year – from the USDA’s separate Drought Monitor shows a reading of 9.8% of the state in drought, compared with 0.0% a year ago.


While the USDA, amid a government closure, did not release a wheat condition reading for January 2019, the average of the previous five years is 38%, on Agrimoney calculations.


Oklahoma decline

For Oklahoma, the third-biggest wheat growing state, the proportion of crop rated good or excellent, at 36%, fell by 4 points month on month, and narrowly behind the 38% average for 2014-18.


The decline again came amid drier conditions, with 9.0% of the state rated as being in drought, compared with none at all a year ago.


Washington, the second-ranked winter wheat growing state, has yet to release January crop condition data.


‘Detrimental to winter wheat’

However, among other major growing states, the Colorado rating was seen down 4 points month on month at 53%, with USDA scouts noting that “minimal moisture during the month of January resulted in diminished topsoil moisture supplies across the state.


Eastern counties received almost no precipitation during January,” with western ones receiving only “isolated moisture” although higher elevations did see “some significant snowfall”.


The briefing stressed that scouts “in north eastern counties noted dry conditions were a primary concern for crop and livestock producers”, with reports also of “warm and windy weather, detrimental to winter wheat”.


In Texas too, where 20% of winter wheat was rated good or excellent, “dry conditions prevailed across most of the state”, leaving some crops “in need of moisture”, and with southern growers starting irrigation.


In Nebraska, the rating fell by 11 points month on month, albeit to a still solid 59% rated good or excellent.


‘Low freeze damage’

However, further north, crops blessed by plentiful moisture and spared so far severe winter conditions, showed some improvement, with the reading for South Dakota up 3 points month on month at 76% good or excellent, and for North Dakota up 1 point at 76%.


Montana showed a 16-point jump to 71% in its rating, amid what officials termed “mild winter conditions with above-average temperatures”.


Indeed, “so far, winter freeze and wind damage to winter wheat remains low,” the USDA said, although adding that “reporters note the extent of damage may be hard to gauge until the crop breaks dormancy in the spring”.

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