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US winter wheat for 2018 harvest makes 'shaky start'

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The US winter wheat crop has emerged in significantly worse condition than investors expected, with some particularly poor starts in states growing hard red winter wheat, the main type grown.


The US Department of Agriculture, in its first report on the condition of winter wheat planted for the 2018 harvest, rated 52% in “good” or “excellent” health.


That was 6 points below the year-ago figure, and 7 points beneath than the rating that investors had expected.


It was also a little below the USDA’s average first US winter wheat condition reading of the growing season, which averaged 54% over the previous five years.


Hard red winter wheat setbacks


The headline figure was dragged lower by weak readings from some states growing hard red winter wheat, which is planted on the Plains and is the main type grown in the US, typically accounting for roughly 40% of the country’s overall wheat output.


In Kansas, the top wheat-growing state, and a hard red winter wheat producer, the reading of 55% of crop in good or excellent condition was in fact in line with the average for a first rating of the season, if below the year-ago rating.


However, in neighbouring Oklahoma, another major producer, the reading of 47% good or excellent was down 8 points year on year.


And some northern Plains states showed notably lower readings, amid growing conditions which remain dry, after a summer marked by drought which caused most high profile damage to this year’s spring wheat crop.


Dryness setbacks


In Montana, the proportion of wheat rated good or excellent came in at 22%.


While USDA scouts reported benign weather last week, with “mild temperatures along with moisture throughout the state”, soil moisture levels remain low, with 44% of topsoil short or very short of moisture, up from 25% a year ago.


“Subsoil was rated 70% very short to short, compared with 32% last year,” the scouts added.


In South Dakota, winter wheat was rated at just 17% good or excellent, again with soil moisture levels weak, at 50% short or very short for subsoil.


‘In good condition’


By contrast, among major soft red winter wheat-growing states, Illinois, where topsoil moisture was 19% short or very short, had an above-average reading, of 59%.


And in Ohio, 90% of the crop was rated good or excellent.


“Winter wheat, hay seedings, and cover crops were reported to be in good condition,” USDA scouts said.


‘Shaky start’


The data were viewed as marginally supportive for prices, particularly of hard red winter wheat, by investors, with Mike Zuzolo at Global Commodity Analytics saying that “I think the conditions coming in 7 points lower than the trade estimates is a feature that may be more favourable for the bull”.


Given ideas of a drop in US winter wheat sowings to the lowest in more than a century, “we have a small acreage base with a shaky start”, the market may have difficulty finding cause from market fundamentals to push futures prices lower, Mr Zuzolo said.


Benson Quinn Commodities termed the overall good and excellent reading a “poor rating”, although adding that “fall ratings don’t have any bearing on overall yield”.


In fact, Chicago-traded soft red winter wheat for December, which closed the last session at a contract low, stood unchanged at $4.24 ¾ a bushel in early deals.


Kansas City hard red winter wheat for December edged 0.1% higher to $4.22 a bushel.

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