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Wheat crop in top US growing state makes worst start in recent history


Should wheat investors be worried about the dryness in the US Plains?


It certainly seems to be setting back the early progress of the winter crop in Kansas, the top US wheat-growing state.


While the first US Department of Agriculture assessment of US winter wheat overall (as being planted for the 2021 harvest) does not look like coming at least another two weeks, a state reading for Kansas released overnight made poor reading.


At 34% good or excellent, that was the lowest initial condition reading on data going back to 2007, and by a margin.


The next lowest is the initial reading of 41% good or excellent given to the crop planted in 2015.


Moisture shortfall

As for the cause of the weak start, a dearth of rainfall would indeed seem to be taking a toll.


Officials rated Kansas topsoil moisture levels as 72% “short” or “very short”. A year ago, for instance, that was just 21%.


While good for progressing fieldwork – the 74% of winter wheat sowings that Kansas farmers had completed as of Sunday was 18 points above the average reading for the time of year – the lack of moisture is not so positive for crop development.


It also tallies with ideas of a La Nina, which often brings dryness to the southern Plains.


Start vs finish

But as to what the poor early start means for harvest prospects, that is more difficult to tell.


The 2016 crop, for instance, planted in the dry autumn of 2016, ended up producing a bumper yield of 57 bushels per acre, the highest in recent history.


By contrast, the 2014-harvested crop – which had started off well, with an initial reading of 63% good or excellent – showed a yield of just 28 bushels per acre, the lowest since at least 2006.


The correlation is not always so clear, and negative. The crop planted in autumn 2016, for instance, started well, with a reading of 61%, and ended up with a decent yield of 48 bushels per acre.


However, you would not want to bet the farm, at this stage of the season, on a poor Kansas, and US, winter wheat harvest in 2021.

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