Wheat market eager for information on Kansas harvest

by Laura Lloyd
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Wheat harvest progress in 2015 has been held back by a wet-weather pattern that began in April and ended in early June.

KANSAS CITY – As the hard red winter wheat harvest expanded after a slow start in top-producing Kansas, producers were eager to get a handle on the average characteristics of a crop that has been called “variable” by more than one observer.

Comments posted on Twitter by producers in the cabs of combines in central Kansas, as well as reports in regional media outlets, told both the good news and the not-so-good news about a crop that developed in the wettest soil conditions in years.

As Kansas Wheat tweeted to #wheatharvest15 late on June 23: “Test weights, yields all over the board; farmers pleasantly surprised.”

With only 8% of the Kansas crop harvested as of June 21 compared with a 33% average for the date, questions about yield, test weight and average protein won’t be answered for a while. Combining this week was progressing well in central Kansas amid much welcomed dry weather.

But some aspects of the current Kansas wheat crop may be put into perspective before complete information on quality, yield and protein becomes available. Overall crop size, for instance, may be ascertained with some certainty. In the June 10 Crop Production report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast the 2015 Kansas wheat crop at 314,500,000 bus. If realized, the 2015 crop would exceed the 2010-14 average outturn of 306,500,000 bus. It would be much larger than the 2014 crop of 246,400,000 bus, which was the smallest Kansas crop harvested since 1967. At the same time, the 2015 crop would be significantly smaller than the recent large crop at 382,200,000 bus in 2012.

Soil moisture in Kansas is another known variable at this stage of the harvest. The U.S.D.A. said topsoil moisture in the week ended June 21 was 89% adequate to surplus, and subsoil moisture was 82% adequate to surplus. During the 2010-14 period, which included three dry years, only 2010 had a wetter soil profile as of the third week in June. In that year, late-June topsoil moisture was 93% adequate to surplus and subsoil moisture was 92% adequate to surplus. In 2010, Kansas wheat production reached 360,000,000 bus with a yield of 45 bus an acre, average protein was 12% and average test weights were 61.4 pounds per bu, the U.S.D.A. said.

Thirty per cent of the 2015 Kansas crop was rated good to excellent and 41% was rated fair  as of June 21, which were more favorable ratings than during the two serious drought years of 2013 and 2014 but lower than 57% good to excellent and 31% fair in the previous wet year of 2010.

Harvest progress in 2015 has been held back by a wet-weather pattern that began in April and ended in early June. Other relatively rainy years such as 2010 also seriously lagged five-year harvest averages by the third week in June. In 2010, only 10% of the crop was harvested by that time.  By the end of June, though, 2010 harvest completion had jumped to 55%.

With clear weather conditions prevailing in Kansas amid hot temperatures — and little rain in the forecast over the next two weeks -- harvest progress likely will be extensive in coming days. As a result, the big questions about the 2015 Kansas winter wheat crop will be that much closer to being answered.
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