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Even with Lower HRW Outlook, U.S. Wheat Production Called Up for 2018/19

Soft red winter (SRW) production is expected to increase to 8.57 MMT in 2018/19

A wheat field at Lukes Gulch, pictured in July.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
A wheat field at Lukes Gulch, pictured in July.



With the small, stressed hard red winter (HRW) wheat crop getting the lion’s share of attention, it was an initial surprise to read in USDA’s May World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) that U.S. wheat production is expected to increase to 49.6 million metric tons (MMT) in 2018/19. That would be up 5 percent year over year, if realized.

The forecast increase is a result of greater harvested area and slightly higher average yield in the other classes. USDA forecast 2018/19 all wheat average yield at 46.8 bushels per acre (3.15 metric tons [MT] per hectare), up from 46.3 bushels per acre (3.11 MT per hectare) last year. Harvested area is expected to increase 1.3 million acres (526,000 hectares) in 2018/19. Crop condition ratings also matter in this forecast, and as the following by-class reviews show, HRW is clearly the exception to the up-trend in production.

HRW production is expected to be the smallest since 2006/07 at 17.6 MMT. If realized, that would be down 14 percent year over year and 22 percent below the 5-year average. Low farm-gate prices and poor planting weather last fall reduced 2018/19 U.S. HRW planted area to 23.2 million acres (9.4 million hectares), the second lowest planted area on record. That poor start coupled with widespread drought throughout the U.S. Southern Plains set up the current situation where harvested HRW acres are expected to fall 5 percent from 2017/18 to 16.5 million acres (6.68 million hectares).

The large decrease in harvested acres is centralized in the U.S. Southern Plains where HRW crop condition ratings remain poor. In top HRW-producing states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, 51 percent, 65 percent, and 59 percent of HRW is rated poor or very poor, respectively. As a consequence of the drought and resulting poor crop conditions, USDA expects harvested area in Oklahoma to fall 31 percent year over year to 2.0 million acres (810,000 hectares). On May 10, USDA rated 25 percent of HRW in the states surveyed in good to excellent condition, while 45 percent is rated poor or very poor. Read more about the all too evident challenge of wheat farming on the High Plains.

Soft red winter (SRW) production is expected to increase to 8.57 MMT in 2018/19. If realized, that would be up 8 percent year over year, but still 22 percent below the 5-year average. 2018/19 U.S. SRW harvested area is expected to increase 8 percent from the year prior to 4.0 million acres (1.62 million hectares). USDA also expects record high yields in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Michigan due to favorable growing conditions this spring.

On May 14, USDA noted week over week crop condition rating improvements in nearly all SRW-growing states, with 67 percent of the SRW acres surveyed rated good to excellent. Week over week improvements were noted in Illinois and Arkansas where 63 percent of SRW was rated good to excellent, up 10 percentage points and 5 percentage points, respectively, from the week prior.

White wheat.* 2018/19 white winter wheat production is forecast at 6.24 MMT, including 5.66 MMT of soft white (SW) winter wheat and 577,000 MT of hard white (HW) winter wheat. If realized, SW winter wheat production would be up 2 percent year over year, due to increased planted area, while HW winter wheat production would be down 11 percent from 2017/18 due to forecast reduction in average yield. SW winter wheat production is centralized in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. As of May 14, 71 percent of Idaho SW, 80 percent of Oregon SW and 85 percent of Washington SW was rated in good to excellent condition.

Desert Durum®. USDA expects Desert Durum® production — centralized in Arizona and California and planted in the winter — to total 332,000 MT, up 6 percent from 2017/18 due to significantly better yields in California. In Arizona, the Desert Durum® crop was 90 percent headed by April 29, significantly ahead of the year prior’s pace.

Spring wheat and Northern durum. Snow covered, frozen fields delayed spring wheat and Northern durum planting this year, but U.S. farmers are beginning to catch up. As of May 14, spring wheat and durum planting is 58 percent complete, up from just 30 percent complete the week prior, but still behind the 5-year average pace of 67 percent.

With spring planting still underway, USDA did not provide a by-class breakdown of production for hard red spring (HRS) and durum on May 10. However, USDA did note that combined spring wheat and Northern durum production is projected to increase 34 percent year over year due to “both increased area and yield.” With total U.S. wheat production projected at 49.6 MMT and U.S. winter wheat production projected at 32.4 MMT, that puts 2018/19 spring wheat — including soft white spring, HRS, and hard white spring — and durum production at 17.2 MMT.

Back on March 29, USDA projected U.S. HRS planted area at 12.1 million acres (4.9 million hectares). If farmers are able to realize their planting intentions despite the late start, that would be up 17 percent year over year. Northern durum planted area was forecast at 1.88 million acres (760,000 hectares), down 14 percent, if realized. Still, weather will play a role in farmers’ decisions, and a late spring in Montana and western North Dakota tends to favor increased wheat area. Conversely, it tends to favor increased corn and soybean acres in Minnesota.



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