Even recognizing the year-to-year variability for U.S. winter wheat plantings, the forecast issued last week for seeded acreage of the 2015 crop could only be characterized as disappointing. At 40,452,000 acres, area planted last fall was down 5% from the unimpressive 42,339,000 acres planted the year before. While trend line yields still would generate an increased winter wheat crop over that harvested in 2014, a larger than indicated area had been expected..

To a degree, weather was blamed for the smaller-than-expected wheat seedings. Extended row crop harvest delays in the fall contributed to soft red winter plantings down 12% from the 2014 crop totals. Seedings in Missouri and Ohio were down 26% each. Dryness was a factor in hard winter plantings, off 3% from the year before. Plantings in each of the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas were down by at least 100,000 acres.

Weather woes aside, the disappointing acreage estimate for the current crop year also must be viewed with an eye toward the continuing secular trend away from wheat in the United States. Acreage at 40.5 million in 2015 is 5% smaller than average in the 2000s, 16% smaller than in the 1990s and 30% smaller than in the 1980s. Even in a year in which total U.S. wheat supplies appear adequate, the shift toward other crops remains a real long-term concern for the wheat-based foods industry.