KANSAS CITY — Excessive moisture from one of the snowiest winters in recent memory has limited progress for the nascent spring wheat planting effort, which is well behind the average pace. But concern was limited, with industry sources noting this year’s planting progress echoes the 2018 season and others in the past decade that nonetheless produced strong crops.
Spring wheat planting overall was 2% completed by April 14, well behind the 2014-18 average pace, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its latest Crop Progress report, with seeding yet to begin in North Dakota, South Dakota or Minnesota, the three states where the most spring wheat is grown.
Spring wheat seeding in the week ended April 14 was 18% completed in Idaho (42% as the five-year average for the date), 1% in Montana (10%) and 17% in Washington (46%).
The U.S.D.A.’s northern Plains outpost in Fargo, N.D., said last week that producers, on average, intend to begin fieldwork April 28 in the top-producing spring wheat state. While behind the average, the slow start isn’t a complete anomaly.
“If you look at the Crop Progress report, last year at this time we had nothing in the ground; the bulk of it was planted in May, and we ended up having a very good production year,” said Erica Olson, market development and research manager with the North Dakota Wheat Commission in Mandan, N.D.
“This is most definitely not the worst year,” Ms. Olson said. “We had 2009, which was a very wet year, 2011, 2013, and some of those years, fields just didn’t get planted, period.”
While the late start to seeding doesn’t necessarily portend a poor crop year, the Upper Midwest/northern Plains is dealing with the aftermath of historic flooding rated the third-worst for the region after 1993 and 1952. The 2019 floods were early and widespread, a product of heavy rainfall, rapidly warming temperatures that sped snow melt, and frozen or saturated soils that increased runoff and, to a lesser degree, ice jams.
In the weeks following the initial flood surge, cool nighttime temperatures tended to re-freeze remaining snow cover, allowing a more controlled melt and easing concerns. However, a snowstorm in the second week of April dropped more spring snow than any year in recent memory and was followed within days by a return to normal spring temperatures.
That has left most North Dakota fields too wet to begin fieldwork, although producers in the west-central and northern parts of the state are drier and closer to planting, Ms. Olson said. Other areas still need a few weeks of sun and dry weather. Producers overall were monitoring the situation with caution rather than distress.
“They’re becoming aware that some years even if they plant late, they do still get good yields,” she said.
At the same time, Ms. Olson acknowledged as time passes in the spring, the more some producers may consider switching to some later-season crops. Such alternative seeding may include sunflower, safflower, canola and a variety of pulses and specialty crops. But “soybeans are the natural choice for a switch to a later-planted crop,” Ms. Olson said. “(North Dakota) corn acres are already predicted to be quite a bit higher, so I don’t know that there will be a big additional shift into that.”
Timely drying of fields in the Red River Valley straddling the border between North Dakota and Minnesota will be crucial to the sugar beet industry. It’s the largest sugar beet-growing region in the country. U.S. sugar beet planting by April 14 was 8% completed, equal to the year-ago progress but behind 16% as the five-year average for the date. Sugar beet planting was 40% completed in Idaho (41% as the average) and 5% in Michigan (2%) but had yet to begin in Minnesota (14%) or North Dakota (9%).
Outside of the Upper Midwest, corn planting was in its early stages. Corn seeding in the 18 major states as of April 14 was 3%, on par with 2018 and just two percentage points behind the recent five-year average. No corn had been planted in the largest producing states of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska or the Dakotas. Corn planting was 1% completed in Indiana (1% as the five-year average for the date), 6% in Kansas (14%), 8% in Kentucky (8%), 6% in Missouri (15%), 18% in North Carolina (28%), 16% in Tennessee (14%) and 57% in Texas (54%).
While growers are now pondering crop options for their still-wet fields, time remains for the ground to dry out and allow the intended acreage to be seeded as projected. The timeline for such decisions varies by individual producers.
“Some have a hard, set date in their mind, and if they’re not in the fields by then, they might switch,” Ms. Olson said. “Others go with the flow and see how things progress.
“It’ll really depend on what May looks like. If May ends up being a warm, dry month, they can get things planted fairly fast. If we receive a bunch more moisture and things aren’t getting done in May, then they’re going to have to switch to some later crops.”
Other crop planting progress by April 14 was generally comparable to 2018 but behind the 2014-18 average. Rice planting in the six major states was 26% completed (30% in 2018, 35% as the five-year average). Oats planting in the nine major states was 30% completed (29%, 40%). Cotton planting in the 15 major states was 7% completed (8% a year ago, 7% as the five-year average). And barley planting in the five major states was 8% completed (7%, 19%).
Sorghum planting in the six major states was 16% completed (20% a year earlier, 19% as the five-year average). The U.S.D.A.’s Feed Outlook report for April indicated producers intend to reduce the area planted to sorghum by 10% in 2019, with all states except Colorado reducing acreage. If realized, that would be the lowest sorghum acreage on record. That’s largely due to the ongoing trade dispute with China, which has sharply curtailed the export market for sorghum.
Ultimately, weather conditions and precipitation levels over the next month will dictate progress or switched acreage.
“With technology, farmers can get a lot done in a little amount of time,” Ms. Olson said. “You’ll have some that will go 24 hours a day if they really get in a pinch.”