Central U.S. Plains moisture conditions best since 2010
Weather conditions at the end of summer 2016 were just about ideal for U.S. hard red winter wheat areas. 

KANSAS CITY — Weather conditions at the end of summer 2016 were just about ideal for U.S. hard red winter wheat areas. Frequent rain fell while temperatures were warm, providing a good environment for priming the soil with moisture needed to plant 2017 crops. The outlook is appealing, but so it was in 2010, the last time such good soil moisture was present during planting. The 2011 crop ran into trouble with the first year of Texas drought evolving in the spring. The prospects for 2017 wheat may be a little better, especially since La Niña is not expected to raise its ugly head for a while.

Soil moisture in hard red winter wheat country and in much of the U.S. crop country in 2016 has come back to where it was six years ago before we trended into the worst drought since the 1930s. The abundant soil moisture today is certainly raising hopes of a successful 2017 wheat planting campaign — not only in the central Plains, but in the Midwest and other U.S. crop areas, as well.

Despite the favorable talk about soil moisture and an apparent fast start to winter wheat planting, soil moisture is not perfect in all areas of the production region. Southwestern Kansas, eastern Colorado and a few minor production counties in both eastern Oklahoma and southwestern Nebraska are still a little dry. Rainfall in these drier areas during the 30-day period ended Sept. 19 was 25% to 75% of normal, with a few pockets reporting less than 25% of normal precipitation. However, with that observation made it must be understood that by the end of September significant rain will have fallen in southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado to further reduce the area that remains dry.

Most of the wheat produced in eastern Oklahoma’s drier biased region does not amount to much. That leaves northeastern Colorado and a few counties in far southwestern Nebraska still in need of significant rain. The remainder of the production area is expected to be in a good position to support quick germination and good establishment. Of course, timely rain will still be needed in October and November to assure the best establishment, and with La Niña unlikely to evolve this season the odds are relatively good that a serious bout of dryness will not evolve.

A well-established autumn crop in the central Plains does not dictate a good production year, but it certainly will help to give crops the best possible start to production in 2017. The last time soil moisture was so abundant in mid-September was in 2010, and wheat planting advanced swiftly. However, drought developed in the southern Plains during the spring of 2011 and sent production tumbling lower, despite good autumn wheat establishment. The drought in 2011 was partially a part of a repeating weather cycle that promoted poor rainfall in Texas, Oklahoma and some neighboring areas, and La Niña was prevailing at the time, and that only exacerbated the problems.

Another wet autumn occurred in 2009, and that was a byproduct of El Niño conditions. That El Niño event evolved into La Niña in 2010, but not before winter wheat had a chance to fully capitalize on good autumn and spring moisture. Production in 2010 was tremendous. World Weather, Inc. believes the biggest threat to wheat in 2017 may end up being crop quality because of another possible wet spring, especially without La Niña playing a significant role in weather from March through May.

Other areas around the world are anticipating a good production year ahead with a couple of exceptions. Australia is expected to have a huge crop, but it is still debatable what kind of quality that crop may attain. Too much moisture has been falling since the growing season resumed in late August, and more rainy weather is slated at times during the spring growing season. All production areas from Victoria to Queensland were saturated with moisture at the time of this writing, and the outlook was for just enough additional rain to maintain moisture abundance. Wet weather disease pressure is likely to remain in most of eastern Australia while Western Australia may end up with the best production year overall.

Canada’s wheat, barley and oat crop is coming off nicely, despite fears of huge grain quality issues brought on by a wet summer. Early returns are suggesting most of the crop is in better-than-expected shape, although there has been some quality decline. Harvest conditions in the Prairies are expected to improve after a late-month rain event abates from the Prairies.

Worry that France would have a second dismal wheat production year in a row has been put to rest — at least for now. France had too much rain and cool weather earlier this year, and that was followed by three months of drought. Rain has begun to recover soil moisture across the production region suggesting autumn planting may go better than expected.

Another area doing well with autumn planting moisture is Russia, Ukraine and other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Dryness in Ukraine and Russia’s southern region recently has eased, and as long as additional rain falls over the next few weeks the outlook for 2017 crops is looking good.

China has endured quite a mix of weather this summer. Recent drought in the Yangtze River Basin worried quite a few over autumn wheat planting prospects, but rain recently has resumed, and as long as it continues through October the outlook for 2017 crop establishment will be favorable.

India will experience some brief periods of La Niña-like conditions this autumn and winter, bringing some important greater-than-usual rainfall to parts of the wheat production region. That should translate into favorable production potential. Pakistan’s crops also may perform well, but the crop will be dependent on water supply, and that may be low because of failing summer 
monsoonal rainfall.

Brazil winter wheat is expected to be of a much higher quality in 2016 than that of recent past years. Much less frequent and damaging rainfall will occur in this year’s crop, and that will help protect grain quality. There should be enough timely rain to support most crop needs, but the distribution of rain will need to be closely monitored.

Argentina’s wheat crop is not doing well. Much of the western and northern production areas are too dry. Soil moisture was favorable for planting and some of the crop was favorably established. However, recent warm temperatures and restricted rainfall have begun to stress some crops. World Weather, Inc. anticipates some timely rainfall in the next few weeks that should keep the crop performing well enough to contribute a large 2017 world crop. The situation in Argentina will need to be closely monitored because of the potential for serious moisture stress if timely rain does not evolve soon. World Weather, Inc. believes rainfall will improve, but the best rainfall may not fall in the west for a while, and that could drop yields in some production areas. Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Entre Rios produce 79% of the total wheat crop with Buenos Aires producing 58% on its own. However, Cordoba, one of the driest areas in the nation, produces 14% of the crop and will need rain soon.