Drought stress on wheat crop being watched

Dave Bergmeier

The recent Wheat Quality Council’s 64th annual Hard Winter Wheat Evaluation Tour put numbers to the phrase “drought stress,” and the result will be a wheat crop that is down in double digits per bushel compared to 2021 in the Sunflower State. Neighboring states also reported similar findings.

The result is evident on the futures board as wheat contracts are being traded at prices normally associated with soybeans—$12 a bushel and higher—yet growers understand that wheat is one of the hardest commodities to forward contract. Sage advice from seasoned wheat farmers is to never project yields until the crop goes through the combine. Selling the entire crop based on assumptions before harvest can be fool’s gold.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service on May 1 estimated the Kansas crop at 271 million bushels, down 93 million from 2021. The WQC tour lowered expectations to 261 million bushels. Heading into the tour wheat was estimated at 6.95 million acres with 94% of planted acres being harvested, although Kansas State University Research and Extension wheat specialist Romulo Lollato told Kansas Wheat he thought abandonment could be as high as 8% to 10%. A year ago, wheat growers planted 7 million acres and abandoned about 4%.

This all comes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has entered its fourth month and raised the alarm bells about global food insecurity, as Russia has made it much tougher for Ukraine grain to hit the markets. As has been reported, Ukraine and Russian wheat is important to the European and African continents.

The U.S. in recent years has become a buyer of last resort from other countries because of currency exchange rates that have put the dollar at a competitive disadvantage. Plus, many High Plains farmers have turned to other crops—most notably corn and soybeans—to plant in their rotation because of genetics that make them drought tolerant even in the semi-arid areas where irrigation is not available. With the lingering drought in the High Plains region dryland corn and soybeans will feel the pain, which is also complicated with delayed planting, too.

This year will be one in which global food scarcity will be closely watched by President Joe Biden, leaders in other countries and Congress.

As we continue to pray for rain and do rain dances, this summer’s High Plains wheat harvest will be closely watched around the world. So will be the time when grain drills return to the fields in September and October. Today’s challenges are reminders of the importance of funding and investment into seed development to better equip the farmer against drought and disease pressure and researchers are doing their due diligence. It all starts with the grower and his continued commitment to stay profitable and feed the world. That commitment is under much stress, too.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].