2017 U.S. hard red winter wheat crop running out of moisture
Per cent of normal rainfall for Aug. 15 to Oct. 17, 2016

KANSAS CITY — Not long ago central U.S. Plains farmers were celebrating moisture abundances that helped to support great summer crop yields. The prospects for winter grain planting in the region were looking almost ideal when the last days of August rolled around. The first weeks of autumn planting began earnestly because of favorable soil moisture and plenty of warmth, but that was the last time some areas recorded healthy rainfall. Weather conditions since then have steadily dried out.

Dryness in September was of little concern because of good subsoil moisture and the earliness of the season. Planting advanced swiftly, and enough moisture was present that many crops emerged relatively well. Conditions in the most recent 30 days — since mid-September — have steadily deteriorated in unirrigated crop areas in the high Plains. Dryness is becoming more of a concern, and even though crops got started quite favorably, the combination of recent very warm to hot temperatures and ongoing dryness may be changing the situation rather quietly. The situation may be a sleeping dog that might become of interest to the commodity futures trade soon because this is a La Niña-like year, and precipitation in the Plains does not usually occur in abundance during those autumn and winter seasons.

Even though reports from the field have been encouraging in recent weeks, the statistics suggest there may be some trouble brewing not too far down in the soil. The most recent two weeks have been dry in many Colorado, western Kansas and Texas Panhandle locations. Some areas in central Nebraska also have reported limited rainfall, but it has not been completely dry in that region. To be dry for a couple of weeks in October is not a huge issue, but if the region was already trending drier in September and the prospects for dryness are continuing for another two weeks ,the situation becomes a little more tenuous.

Extreme high temperatures in the 90s to 102 degrees Fahrenheit occurred shortly after mid-month in much of the central and southern Plains. Those areas that did not report highs over 90 were noting temperatures in the 80s. There was also a strong wind blowing across the region. Sustained wind speeds on Oct. 17 were 20 to 30 mph with gusts getting up close to 40 while relative humidity was extremely low. The drying wind likely removed more moisture from the region, raising the potential for greater stress in the latter part of October and possibly into early November for those areas that have been driest for the longest period of time.

Most of the driest areas in the west-central high Plains are in the southwestern counties of Kansas and eastern Colorado. Dryness in September was not a big enough reason to raise much concern or attention, but the most recent 30 days of well-below-average rainfall and warmer-than-usual temperatures have begun to turn a few more heads.

The situation in the U.S. central Plains might have become a little more interesting recently with the help of France, Australia and Canada. Each of these areas has had its own issues of concern, but the situation could be about to change for many areas. In the case of Australia, it rained far too much in late August and September, raising concern over wet weather disease and quality declines in wheat and barley produced in Queensland and New South Wales. The situation was tenuous for a while, but recent conditions have improved greatly, and there has been no return of exceptional rainfall. As long as that remains the case the impact of too much rain earlier this season will be minimized but still have some impact. Any return of wet weather in Australia during the next few weeks would be a serious situation since crops in the south would be more vulnerable to damage now than earlier this season. Western Australia also had a little frost damage earlier this season, but that, too, was somewhat minimized.

In the meantime, France has had a rough year of weather. The 2016 wheat crop was damaged by too much moisture and cool conditions during much of the growing season. Yields and quality declines resulted. Weather conditions started to change during the summer, but they went to the opposite extreme. Summer corn, sunseed and other crops were negatively impacted when well-below-average precipitation affected France for much of the middle to latter part of summer. That dryness continued through the middle of October and has become a threat to the 2017 crop.

Rain is needed in France for improved germination, emergence and establishment conditions. Even though France has received most of the press regarding weather adversity, most of western Europe has been drier biased since mid-August. Spain, Portugal, France, western Germany, Belgium, parts of The Netherlands and northwestern Italy all reported less than half of normal rainfall from Aug. 15 through Oct. 17. Several areas within the region received less than 25% of normal rain.

Dryness in Spain during the late summer and early autumn is rarely a problem since the Mediterranean climate usually produces dry conditions during the summer. Seasonal rains begin in October for most of the Iberian Peninsula, and rain has occurred in recent days to signal the possible resumption of more normal weather. Germany was rather wet and cool early in the summer, and its drier finish was mostly good for summer crops. Some timely rain events recently have supported autumn planting even though the west has been drier biased.

France, on the other hand, has been drier biased without relief for weeks before the middle of August, and the situation is serious and needs to be dealt with. Computer forecasts at the time of this writing were suggesting relief was on its way to France. World Weather, Inc. believes the moisture will arrive as advertised. Improving crop emergence and establishment will be the first impact of expected rainfall. The second will be relief in the futures market that western Europe will not encounter another production season of strife.

A few other areas of concern in wheat production around the world do not seem to be quite great enough to carry a full blown market run to higher ground in futures prices. However, dryness earlier this season in Argentina might have hurt yields in a few areas. Since then conditions have improved greatly, and it is now a discounted thought that Argentina would have a production issue. Crop conditions are improving at just about the right time to bolster yields, but the situation still needs to be monitored.

In Brazil, wheat production has been much better this year from São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul into Parana because of no excessive moisture. Wheat finished out favorably and was harvested in the north during dry conditions, preserving and protecting yields. Not all is well in southern Brazil, however. Rio Grande do Sul will receive torrents of rain by Oct. 27, resulting in flood conditions and a general decline in wheat quality.

In the meantime, dryness that had been a concern in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Russia’s southern region was eased by rain just in time for crops to benefit prior to dormancy. China weather appears to be mostly good, and India’s unusually late end to the monsoon season in some central areas will help induce better-than-usual wheat conditions for Madhya Pradesh. Areas further north in India are expecting to receive greater-than-usual winter rainfall because of the expected La Niña-like environment.

Overall, the situation in U.S. hard red winter wheat areas is a concern, but there are not many other areas in the world with a similar level of potential problems, and that might put a cap on weather-related futures price appreciation — at least for now. But be sure to watch the central Plains in the next few weeks. Its wheat is important enough to the world that it could still have a significant impact if dryness prevails too long.