Spring wheat planting outlook favorable

by Laura Lloyd
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KANSAS CITY — As agricultural commodity market participants awaited the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March 31, 2014, Prospective Plantings report, experts weighed in on possible scenarios for the soon-to-be-planted hard red spring wheat crop.

While observers acknowledged difficulties in making fully accurate prognostications, they sifted through data and surveys to come up with likely outcomes. So far, in top-producing North Dakota as well as other spring wheat states, the variables point to a larger crop than 2013, with favorable weather, adequate soil moisture and additional acres planted to spring wheat.

If such conditions are realized, prices on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where hard spring wheat contracts are traded, may come down as bearish sentiment builds. Such a development might arrest the upward trajectory in wheat futures prices that began in February 2014.

A poll of  producers released last week by Doane Advisory Services, St. Louis, suggested a significant increase in spring wheat acres, up 16% from 2013 and representing about 13.5 million acres, up from 11.6 million acres in 2013, said Dan Manternach, agricultural services director. Mr. Manternach said a large portion of the increase — more than 1 million acres — would represent land that has been retired for the last 10 years.

He said farmers were likely to plant those new acres to spring wheat rather than soybeans because wheat represents a better option for soil that has been out of use for a significant period. He added that the cost of planting wheat was lower than for soybeans as well.

Mr. Manternach noted that the health of the 2014 spring wheat crop depends on weather with normal amounts of moisture. He said 2014 would likely be a rebuilding year in terms of yield after the overly wet 2013 spring that translated into much delayed or even prevented plantings.

He noted that some meteorologists were suggesting that an El Niño weather pattern may be developing, which he said was typically favorable for North American crops.

Mohamed Mergoum, a plant science professor at North Dakota State University, said spring wheat, in his state at least, may experience early planting this spring: around mid-April, assuming both the atmosphere and the soil temperatures stay above freezing both during the day and at night. Last year, planting of the North Dakota spring wheat crop continued until the end of May.

The North Dakota crop is planted from west to east, Dr. Mergoum said. He said he expected the 2014 spring wheat crop in North Dakota to be close to 6.5 million acres, well above the 5.1 million acres planted in 2013 and the 5.8 million acres planted in 2012.

While current soil temperatures in North Dakota mostly range between 20 degrees and 30 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the above-freezing levels required for fieldwork, Dr. Mergoum was optimistic that conditions will be favorable for planting soon. He said atmospheric temperatures would start reaching into the 50s to the 70s before too long, which would help the soil warm up to acceptable levels.

Meanwhile, North Dakota isn’t fighting the drought conditions that afflict some other parts of the nation’s midsection, such as western Kansas.

The United States Drought Monitor map of North Dakota as of March 18 showed that only four counties in the northeast corner of the state were abnormally dry, the least severe drought designation level. The rest of the state had sufficient moisture.
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