China’s crop weather nearly ideal; Central U.S. Plains dry

by Drew Lerner
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KANSAS CITY — China’s weather so far this spring has been nearly ideal with timely rainfall and seasonably warm temperatures setting the stage for aggressive fieldwork and early season crop development. The environment has been conducive to corn and early season groundnut, sunseed and other crop planting. Spring wheat seeding will get under way soon along with sugar beets now that the northeastern corner of the nation is warming up.

Rainfall so far this month has been notably above average in a very large part of the Yellow River Basin and east-central Provinces. Northern Jiangsu, Shandong and Hebei are the three provinces that have missed much of the greater-than-usual rainfall that has occurred elsewhere to the west, but all three drier areas will receive enough rain to bolster topsoil moisture by the first days in May. That will leave only northeastern China as a region that may still require rain to support spring wheat, sugarbeet, corn and soybean planting.

However, northeastern portions of China — much like the grain and oilseed production areas of the northern North China Plain — do not usually see much seasonal rainfall until later in May and June. That is what makes this month’s weather so unusual. Spring crops have been planted earlier and faster than in recent past years, and winter wheat and rapeseed are developing quickly along with early planting of spring and summer crops.

Winter wheat not doing so well

This weather stands in direct contrast with that of the U.S. hard red winter wheat region. Dryness has been an ongoing worry during the same time that China has been reaping the benefits of warm and moist weather.

Dryness has been ongoing in hard red winter wheat country for months. But, for comparative purposes to China’s weather the past 60 days, conditions have been unusually dry with most of the key production areas in Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas reporting less than half of normal precipitation. A large portion of the dry region has received less than 25% of normal precipitation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture crop condition ratings steadily have declined during this period of time.

The longer range outlook for U.S. hard red winter wheat country is promising some relief in the next few weeks. Changing weather patterns will help promote rainfall across the central and southwestern Plains a little more often over the next few weeks. As of April 21, a first relieving storm system has affected the region, but much more rain is needed before production potentials jump much higher. The recent rain certainly has changed the direction in crop conditions for many areas, but not all wheat fields were treated equally, and the need for more rain is still rather high.

Despite a prediction of near to above-average rainfall extending into May, hard red winter wheat areas still will run some deep moisture deficits for a while. However, wheat is a grass, and it thrives on timely rainfall while having little need for the deep soakings of rain that are required for corn, soybeans and other summer crops. Wheat conditions are expected to improve during the next few weeks, but a full restoration to normal production potential is certainly not likely.

Damage was significant in some wheat fields from bouts of cold this year. Winterkill is suspected of being above normal in some areas, and a recent freeze permanently damaged some late jointed and booted crops in west-central Texas. Drought will take most of the responsibility for a smaller U.S. hard red winter wheat crop this year, but the freeze damage certainly has contributed.

Other U.S. crop areas have been benefiting from less harsh weather. Timely precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest has assured good yield potentials while crops in the Delta and southeast may have lost a little yield in recent freezes.

Other small grain production areas

Despite much hype about unusually low winter precipitation in Ukraine, Germany and portions of southeastern Europe, small grain production from these areas is still expected to be good. Yield potentials may be down in some locations because of dryness at planting time, and there has been considerable “market chatter” about the lack of winter precipitation in these areas. However, winter precipitation can and often is irrelevant as long as timely rain occurs in the spring.

Ukraine precipitation last autumn came quite late, but it did come in time to support some of the winter crop establishment. A big part of the period from late November through March was drier than usual, but timely rainfall so far this month has Ukraine crops poised for favorable development.

Germany’s drier biased weather is also of interest, but recent weather pattern changes already have brought some relief to the drier bias and further relief is anticipated in the next few weeks. That should leave most of the European continent and the western Commonwealth of Independent States poised for favorable crop development this spring season.

Planting recently began in Brazil, South Africa and Australia, although so far what little planting has occurred has been rather restricted. Weather conditions in the Southern Hemisphere will be good for planting over the next few weeks. A close watch on Australia weather is warranted since El Niño may have influence on its weather a little later in the year threatening winter grain and oilseed production. For now, weather conditions in Australia are still favorable and will stay that way into early May with some timely rain likely in many areas, especially in the east.

Palm oil prospects gyrate

On a slightly different subject matter, there has been a great deal of interest in oil palm futures from Southeast Asia recently due to the prospects for El Niño. The environment looked quite threatening in February and early March this year when weeks of well below average precipitation affected Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Most of that dryness erroneously was blamed on developing El Niño, but it was not El Niño. The cause of the dryness earlier this year was another atmospheric phenomenon referred to as Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO). The MJO event was strong and it successfully suppressed rainfall across the tropical western Pacific Ocean for a number of weeks, bringing rainfall to a halt and threatening production for many crops.

Much improved rainfall occurred in the palm oil production region of Southeast Asia during late March and early April, recharging the soil with moisture in many areas and removing fear of a shortage of palm oil in 2015. With that said, it is imperative to note that El Niño is going to evolve and as it does it will suppress rainfall across the palm oil production region, once again returning below average precipitation, and this time it might prevail for an extended period of time threatening production.
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