KANSAS CITY — Just a couple of years ago this meteorologist had his hands slapped for trying to make an issue out of world wheat production problems. The word was that there was too much wheat in the world and that a focus on that crop was a waste of time. Today, of course, the trade has a little different mindset.
Smaller crops in Australia, Canada, Europe and Russia this year allowed the commodity “trade” winds to blow from a different direction. Now that everyone thinks there is a problem the question that begs to be answered is, “Can world wheat production potentials improve?”
Agriculture weather 101 says wheat is a weed. If you can get the seed into the ground and germinated and then protected during the winter there is a relatively good chance that the crop will survive and perform well in the spring. It is hard to believe that sometimes, but it is an amazing crop.
If wheat has a root system and the plant is stressed by any kind of adverse weather during the winter it moves to survival mode. The plant will just shut down and lie dormant until spring. If the plant has not died during the winter and there is timely rain and mild to cool temperatures in the early spring the crop will set new tillers and can perform extremely well if weather conditions are just right.
U.S. wheat in the Plains was not fully planted let alone fully emerged in the beginning of November’s second week. Worry began to rise greatly over the fate of this year’s crop because of the lack of planting and establishment. Bitter cold temperatures arrived in the second week of this month and pushed soil temperatures down below the minimum to support ongoing wheat development. Nebraska, Colorado and northern Kansas experienced the coldest conditions, but producers in those areas were the most successful in getting crops into the ground so that worry over unplanted acreage was minimized.
Southern Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, however, received copious amounts of rain during October stalling fieldwork so that not all of the crop was planted. Weather conditions then turned further adverse by trending much colder. Many crops in the southern Plains were planted just prior to the cold weather’s arrival. Even though many crops had not emerged from the ground when the coldest conditions arrived there is a fair chance that the crop is rooting and slowly developing. A few bouts of warm weather expected in November and December will then become instrumental in getting the late planted crops to emerge.
World Weather, Inc. believes there will be enough periods of warm weather still yet to come in the southern Plains to support some late season fieldwork. A small percentage of the crop may not be planted, and obviously for that crop a recovery in the spring is not possible. However, for the crops that do get planted there is potential the crop could come around more favorably than expected.
The reason for saying this is that spring 2019 is expected to be wetter biased in the central and southern Plains. The wet conditions will help to hold temperatures down so that wheat can set new tillers and improve root systems without having to worry over the stress of hot, dry, weather. That should give the crop a good chance for recovery. There is also likely to be an abundance of snow this winter to adequately protect the crops that did emerge.
Soft wheat in the U.S. Midwest also is facing delays in planting because of delays getting summer crops out of the fields. Improved planting conditions are forthcoming, but the Midwest wheat crop does not have the same luxury as crops in the southern Plains of being a heat sink. It will be difficult for temperatures in the Midwest to get warm enough to induce germination later this autumn. But, like in the central and southern Plains, if the late-planted crop can develop a root system it might have a fair chance of performing favorably.
Interest in U.S. wheat has certainly risen recently after Australia’s crop was much lower than desired. Canada’s Prairies spring and durum wheat lost some quality and a little production because of too much moisture and drought, respectively, during the harvest and growing season this year. Ontario and Quebec may not have planted all of their crops this season because of frequent precipitation in recent weeks.
In Europe the problem was, is and will continue to be of drought. Europe is dealing with its longest drought in this meteorologist’s 40-year career and even though wheat, rye and barley are planted, protection for crops this year will be of critical importance because of poor establishment in many areas.
However, just like in the United States, if the wheat that was planted and emerged survives during winter and has timely precipitation and seasonable temperatures in the spring production could end up being surprisingly good.
In other areas of the world, Argentina’s wheat should be doing alright, although recent flooding and hail may have damaged a part of that crop. India’s wheat needs moisture as it does every year to perform well. India is expected to receive some timely precipitation and experience some cool weather this winter that may help boost its production.
China irrigates most of the northern winter wheat crop where dryness set in more significantly than usual this year. Unirrigated crops in the northern Yellow River Basin and northern half of the North China Plain may struggle and yield poorly in the spring, but since much of the region irrigates the threat is small. Southern wheat areas in China are receiving abundant precipitation, and that should ensure a good stand and favorable production potentials in 2019.
World Weather, Inc. believes that 2019 winter crops do have potential to produce better than expected based on current and anticipated weather conditions. A full restoration in production potential is not likely in the United States, western and northern Europe or from Ukraine into Kazakhstan, but the odds are very good that each of these areas will see better spring weather that will improve crop yield potentials.
In the meantime, summer coarse grain, oilseed, sugarcane, cocoa and other important ingredient crops produced around the world still have to deal with El Niño. The latest word on that phenomenon is that it continues to evolve, but so far it has been a non-traditional event.
A lack of warm water south of the equator in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and no seriously cool water around Indonesia and Malaysia has limited the early season impact of El Niño. Timely rain has been occurring in eastern Australia recently and portions of both Indonesia and Malaysia have experienced some timely precipitation that has improved topsoil moisture in many important crop areas.
Not all crop areas in the world are experiencing good weather. South Africa has been struggling for rainfall in its western and central grain, oilseed and cotton production region. Some of the mainland areas of Southeast Asia would benefit from greater rain, but there has been no sign of moisture stress in west-central Africa cocoa, sugarcane, coffee or other crop areas.
And that brings us to South America, where production potentials are looking tremendous because of an early start to the rainy season and well-timed rainfall so far this year. Planting is well ahead of average. The only negative comment that can be made in regard to Brazil and Argentina is 1) southern Brazil may dry out for a while in December and early January and 2) recent flooding rainfall has threatened Argentina crops and a little replanting may be necessary, but there is time for that.