Average 7-Day Topsoil Moisture Ended Sept. 22, 2015

Another dry finish to the summer has occurred in parts of southern Russia and Ukraine this year, and just like last year the production area needs rain soon or crops will not establish well. There is also some concern over U.S. hard red winter wheat crops not establishing as well as usual, and with El Niño around this autumn there may be some dryness issues in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The autumn planting season in northern Russia begins as early as mid-August because of a tendency for those areas to get cool early in the autumn season. Planting of the northern crops advanced quite favorably, and it is a good thing that was the case because rain evolved in late August and early September frequently enough to stall fieldwork and to saturate the soil. Too much moisture occurred for a little while, but since fieldwork was significantly advanced by that time the impact was rather minor. Weather conditions in the northern parts of Russia have since improved greatly and winter crops are establishing well.

The situation is a bit different further to the south. Planting in Ukraine and southern Russia normally occurs in September and early October with some fieldwork beginning in late August. This year’s planting season in the south began with low soil moisture. Some seeding occurred while soil conditions were borderline adequate, but a steady rate of drying since then coupled with warm temperatures have depleted soil moisture. Some of the early emerged crops are not establishing well and some planting is on hold.

A few farmers in southern and eastern Ukraine and areas east northeast into the middle Volga River Basin and Kazakhstan may be planting in the dust in hopes that timely rain will evolve in October. Planting in October is often a risk because it can get quite cold in the western CIS and eastern Europe during the month, and if crops are not favorably established they may be pushed into dormancy prematurely without having good tiller or root systems, resulting in a higher incidence of winterkill when temperatures are extremely cold and snow cover minimal. There is also a tendency for wheat and rye that are planted late in these areas to generally yield lower.

As of Sept. 17, the Ukraine Agriculture Ministry suggested that 15% of the winter grain planting (mostly wheat) had been planted, but that was well behind the average for this time of year. No data were provided for what average is, but normally the crop mostly is planted by the first of October.

In Russia, nearly half of the winter grain crop had been planted as of Sept. 17. That was approximately 9% below the planting pace of last year at this time.

Winter rapeseed planting in western Ukraine was only 44% done. Normally the crop would be fully planted. The planting window for rapeseed will be closing at the end of this month, but rain is expected in western Ukraine a couple of times before the first days of October have passed and that should translate into a better environment for late planting and establishment.

The area of concern is tremendous in size with almost all of Ukraine being affected by some level of dryness and a big part of Russia’s middle and lower Volga River Basin into its U.S.D.A. defined “Southern Region” and neighboring areas of Kazakhstan. Many of these latter areas have been in drought all year, and some of the dryness dates back to the 2010 drought that affected much of Russia. The implication is that substantial rain is needed to support winter crop planting and establishment, and the last 10 days of September and the first week of October were not expected to generate much moisture. That shortens the window of opportunity for improvement prior to winter dormancy that usually occurs in late October.

Average 7-Day Topsoil Moisture Ended Sept. 20, 2015

There is still sufficient time for a turnaround in the situation. Last year was also dry in many of these same areas, although probably not as extreme as they are this year nor was the dryness as widespread. Rain fell in October and temperatures were warmer than usual deep into the autumn, and that led to much improved crop and field conditions prior to winter dormancy. World Weather, Inc. does not believe the same conditions will occur this year, although they may be somewhat similar.

Mid-October is when weather patterns around the Northern Hemisphere are expected to flip around, resulting in a better chance for precipitation in these drier areas of Ukraine and Russia. However, temperatures will trend cooler too and that will limit the time for improvement.

Farmers in Ukraine are expected to proceed with planting aggressively in the next couple of weeks, with or without rain so that seeds will respond to any moisture as soon as it becomes available. That way the crops will have the best opportunity to get started and established prior to dormancy.

In the meantime, U.S. hard red winter wheat country has had some dryness to deal with this month, but planting has advanced relatively well. Fieldwork (nationally) on Sept. 20 was 19% completed compared to 20% average. Kansas was 11% planted compared to 12% average, but Oklahoma was only 6% seeded compared to 16% average. Texas was 2% behind the 5-year average with planting at 18% complete. Nebraska and Colorado were ahead in their planting with 45% and 49% planted, respectively. Emergence is the bigger concern in some of the drier areas, and rain expected in the last days of September and early October will be important for establishing crops favorably.

Dryness is also a concern in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and a part of the northwestern U.S. Plains — especially with El Niño expected to dominate the autumn and winter. The quicker crops get planted in these areas the better off they will be when rain falls. El Niño reduces rainfall in both regions, and some dryland wheat often does not establish well because El Niño tends to produce a high pressure ridge over the region during much of the late autumn and winter restricting rainfall.

In other areas around the world, planting is advancing relatively well. Parts of western Europe got a little too wet during mid-month, but will see some improvement in the latter part of September. Eastern Europe — like many areas in Ukraine and southern Russia — need greater rainfall to establish crops in the best possible manner. Eastern Europe likely will get rainfall in plenty of time to establish crops favorably.

The miracle wheat production area in the world this year is Australia where everyone was fearful of a drought because of El Niño. The crop has performed very well, thus far, and will finish reproduction in October. There is some worry that southern crop areas will dry out too much in the next few weeks and that might still harm yields, but the big disaster that was feared because of El Niño has not evolved bolstering production.

Southern Brazil will be too wet over the next few weeks, and a general decline in wheat quality is expected. Winter crops in Argentina need more rain and some will fall, but the crop already has been significantly reduced by lower area planted and by floods that occurred last winter.