March will be going down as another colder-than-usual month across many key U.S. wheat production areas. The coolness has slowed the start of greening and crop development in many areas across the Plains and Midwest while frequent bouts of frost and freezes have burned back new growth in the southeastern U.S. However, the commodity trade may be more worried about dryness in the central and southern U.S. Plains more than anything else.
Recent reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have claimed that dryness in the United States has been a constant reason to reducing crop condition ratings, and now there have been some claims that Ukraine and Germany are running too dry as well. On top of all that concern, El Niño is still breathing down the back of Australia’s eastern wheat country, raising concern over production later this year. World Weather, Inc. believes April will be a month of improvement for many of the drier areas noted above with rain potentials beginning to rise.
Some recent reports from the U.S.D.A. have claimed that precipitation across the western Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union) has been notably below average the past several months. The below-average precipitation bias has not only included the period since the beginning of 2014, but it extends back six months to the period beginning in early September. Some of the data are not being properly interpreted, though. Precipitation was poorly distributed early in the autumn of 2013 in Ukraine and portions of southern Russia, and planting of autumn crops was delayed for a while. However, a notable bout of rain evolved late in the planting season that bolstered topsoil moisture just prior to winter dormancy. The moisture went into the ground with warmer biased daily temperatures over an extended period of time, resulting in better-than-expected establishment for autumn crops.
Once temperatures turned colder the ground froze up with favorable amounts of moisture present, and that moisture is still in the soil today. In addition to the moisture lingering from last autumn there has been some favorable runoff from recent snowmelt.
The combination of recent snowmelt runoff and autumn rainfall has left the majority of the western C.I.S. sufficiently moist to support crop development early this spring. Certainly the need for timely rainfall will rise greatly as seasonal warming kicks in and the moisture begins to either evaporate or soak deeper into the ground.
The U.S.D.A. reported rainfall to have been 20% to 50% of normal over the past few months in much of the western C.I.S. World Weather, Inc. data suggested eastern and westernmost portions of Ukraine are not nearly as dry as central portions of the nation, and the potential for timely precipitation this spring remains very good. Worry over precipitation and soil moisture biases this spring are likely overblown for now. Seasonal weather patterns and the development of El Niño should translate into a favorable precipitation distribution later this year, minimizing the significance of the past few months of dryness.
The same kind of scenario is present in Germany. Precipitation in Germany since Jan. 1 has been well below average with some areas reporting less than 25% of normal precipitation. Southeastern portions of Europe, like Ukraine and other western C.I.S. crop areas, also are coming into spring with a notable below-average precipitation bias in recent months. World Weather, Inc. believes Germany, southeastern Europe and most of the western C.I.S. all will receive timely rainfall in April to minimize production concerns. The same cannot be said about the central United States or Australia.
Eastern Australia has moved through several months of below average precipitation recently. Summer sorghum, corn, soybeans, sunseed, cotton and rice production all have been affected by hot, dry conditions. The impact of dryness and hot temperatures in eastern Australia has been significant for summer crops, but a far greater impact awaits the wheat, barley and canola crops if there is no significant relief in eastern Australia during the next few months when planting begins.
The concern for eastern Australia is the fact that El Niño years (like this one) usually diminish eastern Australia rainfall during the late winter and spring months. Dryness at that time of year nearly always results in lower production. The forecast for El Niño later this year may be having a greater-than-usual impact on planting intentions for 2014 since drought is already in place across most of eastern Australia. The development of El Niño later this year in the third and fourth quarters will raise the potential that today’s drought will not have enough time to be fully eased by rainfall prior to the development of El Niño. That may translate into another more severe drought during the 2014-15 production year.
Few wheat production areas in the world have had more press recently than that of the U.S. hard red winter wheat region. The area from Nebraska to western Texas has suffered from drought for the past four spring seasons. Drought has not been eased in the slightest manner this year, and over the past few weeks there have been reports of decreasing soil moisture, water supply and crop condition ratings. The situation in the central and southwestern Plains is much more threatening than that in other areas of the world since wheat is greening and both water supply and soil moisture are dismally low.
Rainfall across the central and southwestern U.S. Plains has been less than half of normal since Jan. 1 from portions of southern Kansas through most of northern Texas, and less than 25% of normal from western Oklahoma into the Texas Panhandle. The heart of central Kansas has reported 50% to 75% of normal precipitation. Some areas in the southwestern U.S. Plains have reported less than half of normal precipitation since last September with varying levels of drought going back to 2010.
World Weather, Inc. suggests changing weather patterns in the next few weeks will bring on an opportunity for relief from drought. A complete end to dryness is certainly not expected, but a few timely bouts of rain will evolve this spring to induce a little relief. Drought busting rainfall is not expected, but sufficient amounts will fall to moisten the topsoil for planting of spring crops and for support of the developing 2014 winter wheat crop.
A similar bout of rain is predicted in April for central and southeastern Europe and the western C.I.S. along with some important rain in eastern Australia. Already, in the last days of March eastern Australia reported rain and more was anticipated over the next few weeks. Wheat in eastern Australia is normally planted from late April into June, and the coming change in rainfall patterns will prove timely and should help the 2014 wheat, barley and canola crops get planted, despite the pending El Niño advertised to evolve in late April, May and June.
Wheat development in other areas around the world is poised for excellence. China will continue to experience warmer-than-usual temperatures and some timely precipitation during the next few weeks. North Africa durum wheat also will remain favorably moist along with much of Europe, leaving production potentials fine. Most of Russia’s wheat and rye are poised to begin development in a favorable environment this spring. India will have a huge crop, and southeastern Canada’s winter crop should be of large size. If World Weather, Inc.’s long range weather forecast is correct predicting improved rainfall during April in the United States, Germany, Ukraine and Australia, there will not be too many other areas in the world that are running dry enough to threaten production — at least not right now.