Not all areas benefited equally. Rain in the first 20 days in April was still notably below average in western portions of the Texas Panhandle northeast into southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado. However, the area of dryness this month is insignificant relative to the huge region of dryness that was prevailing in March. Nevertheless, there is still a strong demand for rain in the areas that have not been seriously relieved — at least in unirrigated production areas.
In addition to the widespread rain that fell during the middle part of April there was a trend change that affected temperatures. March and early April were frequently very warm to hot, and that, in combination with little to no precipitation, was stressing young crops coming out of dormancy. By April 20, at least some relief had taken place across the wheat region, but the need for follow up rain was still great due to low subsoil moisture.
The recent rain in U.S. hard red winter wheat country and, for that matter, the western Corn and Soybean Belt as well, was in direct contrast to the dry conditions that occurred in March. Precipitation last month was less than half of normal for many areas from the Great Lakes region back into the central Plains with many hard red winter wheat production areas getting less than 25% of normal moisture. The areas from western parts of the Texas Panhandle to southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado remain quite dry relative to normal for this month, and clearly those regions were seriously dry last month, as well.
As of April 20, 50% of the wheat in Texas and 35% of the wheat in Oklahoma had headed. Only 4% of the wheat in Kansas had headed while the wheat in Colorado and Nebraska had not yet reached the heading stage. Winter wheat conditions were mostly (74%) rated in fair to good shape. However, crop conditions could gradually deteriorate if the central and southern Plains miss out on timely precipitation in coming weeks. Only 7% of this year’s crop was rated excellent and 19% was rated poor to very poor. Despite the low ratings, conditions were notably improved over those of last year when 33% of the crop rated poor to very poor.
The same weather pattern that had been prevailing during mid-April will continue into much of May offering further relief to dryness in the central and southern Plains, as well as the U.S. western Corn Belt. Some of the benefits of frequent rain in winter wheat country will not be fully extended into the U.S. Midwest, lower Mississippi River Basin or parts of the southeastern states because of already saturated field conditions and some recent delays to farming activity.
Spring planting and general fieldwork were behind the average pace in the lower Midwest, Delta and southeastern states. Frequent rainfall and periodic bouts of cool weather combined to slow the early season planting pace, and some of the soft red wheat produced in the lower Midwest was not rated as favorably as usual because of constant wet conditions.
U.S. weather patterns are not very likely to change much over the balance of April or early May, and that may lead to some perpetuating concerns about slow planting in the lower Midwest and parts of the southeastern United States. Field progress will advance, albeit at a slower-than-usual pace. Some short-term bouts of improved weather and field conditions are expected, and that will open the door for some short spurts of aggressive fieldwork.
Small grain crop weather in the remainder of the world varies greatly this spring, but no area has had weather as good as that in China. China’s winter wheat crop went into the fields last autumn with some timely precipitation setting good root and tiller systems. The winter was filled with sufficient cool weather without any winterkill, and a few timely precipitation events occurred to maintain favorable moisture levels for root systems.
Early spring in China has come with some well-timed, significant rain events. The moisture came at first with cool early season temperatures, which only helped to conserve soil moisture through low drying rates. The moisture built up in many areas, and when temperatures finally warmed sufficiently in early to mid-April crop growth rates accelerated dramatically.
China’s wheat production prospects are tremendous and little change is anticipated as long as the well timed rainfall and seasonably warm temperatures prevail through May, as expected. Evolving El Niño conditions may bring some dryness around late this spring, but it is doubtful that production will be seriously affected unless the drier bias comes with persistent very warm temperatures.
Almost unprecedented rainfall fell in India during the March through early April period. Nearly five weeks of unusually significant amounts of rain occurred simultaneously with the advancement of grain filling, maturation and early harvesting. The situation was grim for some areas that received substantially more rain than usual. That period of time often generates 0.25 to 0.75 inch of moisture in northern, central and southern India. This year’s rain totals ranged from 1.50 to more than 5 inches, which may not seem like all that much, but for India this was devastating.
Winter wheat, lentils and other pulse crops, along with some oilseed crops, all suffered from quality declines because of the frequent, significant, rainfall. Temperatures were a little milder than usual during the rainy periods, and some of the stronger thunderstorms produced hail and damaging surface wind resulting in the lodging of winter crops and further losses.
India’s weather has since improved, but only after the damage was done. A recovery in production is not likely and the nation will feel the impact on its economy later in the year.
Now India is getting ready for its monsoon season. El Niño conditions are back for a second year in a row and there is new concern that rainfall this summer will be less than usual possibly hurting that crop as well.
A good recovery from dryness has evolved in Ukraine and Russia since the very dry planting season last autumn. Soil conditions are saturated or nearly saturated in many areas and the prospects for similar conditions are very high through May. The only exception was in the lower Volga River Basin where dryness was still lingering from the 2010 drought.
The lower Volga River Basin area only produces a few percentages of the winter wheat crop and lingering dryness there is not much of an issue while all other production areas are favorably to abundantly moist.
The biggest threat to some western Commonwealth of Independent States’ production this spring may be from the ongoing coolness that is prevailing. A general warming trend is badly needed and was expected in the last week of April and early May.
A close watch on rainfall during the warmer biased period will be needed since it would not take too long for dryness to come back to the region, despite favorable soil moisture today.
Europe soil conditions were frequently too wet during the late winter and early spring, but conditions have been improving. Europe, like the western CIS, does need warmer weather to stimulate the best crop development and field working conditions. Some of the required warming may be a little slow in evolving, but crops are still rated relatively well.
Australia’s wheat, barley and canola planting is just beginning, but late summer and early autumn rainfall was sufficient to ease seasonal dryness. Follow-up rain must occur soon to support more aggressive planting. South Africa is expecting a better planting season this year after dryness last year shrank the wheat crop down to a 1930’s sized crop.
Brazil already has started planting its wheat crop and conditions are favorable for that. Argentina will begin planting soon, but the bulk of its planting often occurs in June and early July.