Rapid crop progress offers both promise and risk

by Staff
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KANSAS CITY — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Progress Report for the week ended April 22 continued to show winter wheat crops maturing early, with high percentages in good-to-excellent condition in the largest wheat-producing states. Weather generally was relatively dry and mostly warm during the week, with patches of cold. As a result, the trade was trying to assess if there has been spotty weather damage and remained unconvinced that drought is not a threat in some areas.

Crop progress in hard red spring wheat areas in the northern Midwest has been nothing short of astounding. The U.S.D.A. said 84% of the spring wheat crop in Minnesota was planted by April 22 compared with 0% in the same date last year and the recent five-year (2007-2011) average of 17%. The U.S.D.A. also indicated that 45% of the North Dakota spring wheat crop was planted compared with 0% a year earlier and 8% as the five-year average for the date.

Jim Peterson, marketing director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission, contrasted the dryer, warmer 2012 hard red spring wheat planting conditions against the 2010 and 2011 crop years, which were characterized by cold, wet springs with fields mudded in.

“People say, plant in the dust, the bins will bust,” Mr. Peterson said.

He added that planting in North Dakota is likely to be completed by mid-May, about two weeks earlier than the typical end-of-May scenario. That should afford the spring wheat crop the opportunity to be sufficiently mature by mid-July not to be threatened by the possibility of very warm temperatures at that time.

While he emphasized that planting conditions have been favorable so far in 2012, he said producers are looking for that “perfect mix of moisture and temperatures.” He said some farmers are concerned the dry weather so far this spring may tilt into actual drought if rains are not forthcoming.

“We’re in a drier period and we do need some timely precipitation,” he said.

In hard red winter wheat states, crop conditions show large percentages of good-to-excellent ratings, with Kansas reporting 68% good to excellent and Oklahoma showing 77% good to excellent. Last week, a total of 63% of the hard red winter wheat in all 18 reporting states totaled good to excellent, up from 35% last year. Despite these numbers, not all experts see smooth sailing all the way to a bumper-crop harvest.

“The statistic that I think is among the most important is the per cent headed in the Kansas crop,” said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of the Kansas Wheat Commission. That figure — 45% headed — is up sharply from 5% at the same time last year and 2% as the five-year average for the date. Mr. Gilpin said such a level of heading has been “pretty much never seen before,” and it makes the hard red winter wheat crop “vulnerable to low temperatures.” He expected the good-to-excellent conditions, currently down 1% to 63% in the 18 hard red winter wheat states, to erode in coming weeks.

He noted that temperature readings below freezing were recorded in several Kansas locations in the last few days, and the cold may have damaged the crop, although any damage will be difficult to discern for about two more weeks. Forecasts are for temperatures to warm in the near term, yet another shock of colder temperatures might follow, he said. He added that rainfall has been scarce and he is aware of some “disease pressure” weighing on the crop, so he is not without concerns for this fast-maturing crop.

In soft red winter wheat areas in the eastern Midwest, despite the very high good-to-excellent percentages recorded in many states, producers have some worries about freeze damage in Illinois and Kentucky that occurred about 10 days ago, said Connie Barr, vice-president of customer service, Siemer Milling in Teutopolis, Ill. She said temperatures reached down in the 20’s in those regions.

“People don’t know if there was no damage or whether it is too early to see the damage,” Ms. Barr said. “Farmers are cautiously optimistic.”

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