Anxious eyes on the slowly progressing spring wheat harvest, August 23, 2011
by Jay Sjerven

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The spring wheat harvest was off to a slow start with the market concerned over the ultimate size and quality of the crop. An excessively wet spring delayed planting in many areas, and many producers failed to seed their intended acres. There were fears the late planting and still wet conditions may extend the harvest so deep into the season that frost may pose a threat. Those concerns provided extra fuel to spring wheat futures contracts traded on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. The Minneapolis contracts significantly widened their lead on Kansas City and Chicago wheat futures.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in its weekly Crop Progress report issued Aug. 15 indicated the spring wheat harvest in the six key states was 13% completed compared with 6% a week earlier and 39% as the recent five-year average for the date. The harvest was 6% completed in North Dakota (34% as the average for the date), 64% in South Dakota (76%), 21% in Minnesota (46%), 2% in Montana (31%), 7% in Idaho (20%) and 3% in Washington (45%).

The North Dakota Wheat Commission noted at last week’s outset that initial harvest reports pointed to slightly disappointing yields, mainly ranging between 30 and 40 bus per acre, and lower-than-average test weights. “The hot conditions seen for the last few weeks and disease pressure appear to have negatively affected yield in many areas,” the commission said. “Protein appears to be higher than the previous two years, but this only represents a small portion of the crop so far. Producers are also concerned about disease and insect issues due to the recent wet conditions.”

U.S. Wheat Associates in its Aug. 19 harvest report indicated the hard red spring wheat harvest was running two to three weeks behind the five-year average pace. U.S. Wheat provided its first assessment of spring wheat quality of the season. Its analysts examined 38 samples most of which came from South Dakota with only a few from North Dakota and Minnesota. The analysts intend to examine a total of 450 samples before they make their final assessment of the northern Plains spring wheat crop.

On the basis of the 38 samples examined to date, hard red spring wheat test weight was averaging 58.4 lbs per bu compared with 61.5 lbs last year and 61.1 lbs as the recent five-year average. Protein was averaging 15.5% compared with 13.9% last year and 14.2% as the five-year average. Thousand kernel weight was averaging 25.3 grams compared with 31.9 grams last year. Falling number averaged 407 seconds compared with 396 seconds in 2010. The average dark, hard, vitreous kernel value was 80% compared with 73% last year and 73% as the five-year average. The average grade to date was No. 1 northern spring wheat, the same as last year.

With less than 10% of the intended samples assessed, it was much too early to suggest the current trends in quality would prove representative.

Also last week, the U.S.D.A. Farm Service Agency indicated that farm program participants reported they failed to plant 2,623,000 acres intended for spring wheat. The data may result in a further cut in the U.S.D.A.’s estimates for planted and harvested areas for spring wheat. The U.S.D.A. in its August Crop Production report, on the basis of a resurvey of producers, lowered its estimate of hard red spring wheat planted area by 1.1 million acres, to 11.9 million acres, and its forecast for spring wheat harvested area also by 1.1 million acres, to 11.5 million acres.

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