Bloomberg News

Kansas Wheat Faces Weather Risk as Warm Spell Aids Crop Progress

March 13, 2012

Winter wheat in Kansas, the biggest U.S. grower, has developed faster than normal because of unusually warm weather, leaving plants vulnerable to a cold spell or persistent dry conditions, an agronomist said.

Some winter wheat, planted in September and harvested in May, already has entered the jointing stage, when stems begin to emerge from the plant, Jim Shroyer of Kansas State University said. That leaves the grain more at risk from a freeze. In April 2007, temperatures plunged as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit in central Kansas, leading to a drop in the state’s harvest to a five-year low, government data show.

Temperatures may climb above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) this week in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, or as much as 20 degrees above normal, said Andy Karst, a meteorologist at World Weather Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas. Western areas of the Great Plains, where storms over the weekend brought less than a 0.5 inch (1.3 centimeters) of rain, may be mostly dry next week, he said in an interview.

The crop “looks actually too good for this time of the year,” Shroyer of the state university said last week in a telephone interview from Manhattan, Kansas. “With the warm weather conditions that we’ve had, the wheat has really taken off. It’s not paying any attention to the calendar whatsoever.”

“Extreme” Drought

Cold temperatures that may damage crops aren’t in the forecast through at least the next week, Karst said yesterday in a telephone interview. Areas of southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and west Texas are still facing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought after below-average precipitation last year, according to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s U.S. Drought Monitor.

Wheat futures have declined 0.8 percent this year to $6.4725 a bushel at 11:20 a.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade. The price slumped 18 percent in 2011 as global output climbed. U.S. production may total 2.165 billion bushels in the year beginning May 31, up from 1.999 billion a year earlier, the Department of Agriculture said on Feb. 24.

Farmers in Kansas may have planted about 9.5 million acres for harvesting this year, 8 percent more than a year earlier, after dry weather in the autumn led to earlier seeding, said Aaron Harries, the marketing director of the Manhattan, Kansas- based grower group Kansas Wheat.

Storms in November and December recharged soil moisture, particularly in central parts of the state, Harries said. Conditions turned drier again this year with western Kansas receiving about 75 percent of the normal amount of rain since Jan. 1, National Weather Service data show.

‘Bigger Problem’

“Middle and late March, that’s when we like to see rainfall pick up” because crops have emerged from winter dormancy, Harries said. “If it doesn’t start raining in March and April, that’s going to be a bigger problem.”

Drought cut production in Kansas to 276.5 million bushels last year, the lowest since 2002, USDA data show. In 2007, during the last springtime cold snap, production was 283.3 million bushels, the lowest in five years.

As of March 11, 4 percent of the crop in Kansas entered the jointing stage, compared with 1 percent a year earlier, the USDA said. In Oklahoma, the figure was 39 percent, up from 22 percent.

This year, Topeka, Kansas, had its second-warmest winter on record. Temperatures from December to February averaged 38 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. Storms beginning March 19 may bring eastern areas of the Plains as much as 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) of rain, while drier regions from west Texas to southwest Kansas may only get 0.2 inch to 0.65 inch, World Weather Inc. said today in a report.

“Temperatures are probably a little warmer than we’d like it, and we’re dry,” said Richard Randall, a farmer from Scott City, Kansas, who started irrigating his fields yesterday after storms brought only 0.1 inch during the weekend. “I would like to wait a little later, but it needs a drink now,” he said in a telephone interview. “We need a good rain.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Whitney McFerron in Chicago at wmcferron1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net


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