KANSAS CITY — Hard winter wheat producers in the western Great Plains hope an Oct. 26 snowstorm served as an aperitif to a more substantial feast for recently-seeded fields.
A day-long snow event showered most of the southern Plains with at least some of the white stuff, ranging from a dusting to several inches. Central Kansas and areas to the south, including most of Oklahoma, received the heaviest snowfall.
Eastern Colorado and western Kansas, the winter wheat production areas most in need of a drink, received far less. Also, colder temperatures and high winds combined to limit the snow’s beneficial moisture that the wheat plants need to establish roots and emerge before entering dormancy, said Justin Gilpin, chief executive of Kansas Wheat.
“Areas that received 3 to 4 inches of snow in their gauges are reporting that it only came out to about a tenth of an inch of moisture,” he said. “Sometimes you get a wet snow, you can get 6 or 8 inches of snow that could be equivalent to an inch of rain, but a dry snow just kind of blows around.”
Coincidentally, the US Department of Agriculture released its first weekly crop condition ratings for the 2021 winter wheat crop the afternoon of the snowstorm. The ratings were bleak.
As of Oct. 25, winter wheat was rated 41% good to excellent, the lowest initial condition rating since the 2013 crop was rated 40% good to excellent in October 2012. Ratings for much of the hard winter wheat belt, including the drought-plagued western areas, were dismal.
The Kansas crop was rated 29% good to excellent and 47% fair. The Oklahoma crop was rated at 11% good and 64% fair, and the drought-stressed Colorado crop was 24% good to excellent and 47% fair. Other hard winter wheat states fared better. Good-to-excellent ratings were 37% in Texas, 43% in Nebraska, 77% in South Dakota, and 80% in Montana.
Soft red winter wheat crop condition was much better and pulled up the all-winter wheat average. Good-to-excellent condition ratings were 49% in Missouri, 68% in Illinois, 59% in Indiana, 68% in Ohio, and 71% in Michigan.
Disheartening crop conditions “weren’t unexpected in that we knew the crop was under considerable dryness stress with no measurable precipitation in a month and a half,” Mr. Gilpin said. “It certainly needs moisture to get established as we get into winter. Growers will take any moisture they can get, but there was some concern about sub-freezing temperatures this week since we saw record overnight lows for October.”
Potential winterkill was on some traders’ minds last week. But veteran grain analysts quickly dismissed that idea since few could recall a year when the phenomenon happened to any notable extent at this time of year. Still, low temperatures during last week’s snow were thought to have stressed the crop due to wide temperature swings from near-90 degrees on Oct. 22 to below 20 degrees three days later.
“The concern is we want to see the temperatures warm back up, which they’ve already begun to do, because super-low temps can really slow growth down,” Mr. Gilpin said.
Growers were hopeful warming temperatures would create ideal conditions for a beneficial soaking during storms forecast for Oklahoma, southern Kansas, central Kansas, and eastern Kansas. Unfortunately, drought-stricken northwest Kansas and eastern Colorado seemed to be on the fringe of radar projections, indicating crops in those areas still may face major challenges.