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Dry winter, wet spring shrinks U.S. wheat crop, adding to global war troubles

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North Dakota farmer Dwight Grotberg wanted to plant more wheat this spring to capitalize on rising prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut grain exports and left the world without millions of tons of wheat.

Heavy rains prevented Grotberg from planting as much wheat as he wanted and prevented farmers in the state, the largest spring wheat producer in the United States.

Instead of increasing supply, North Dakota expected to plant wheat on the smallest of its registered agricultural lands, according to government data.

The United States is the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter, and problems are affecting production at a time when the world can no longer afford to lose grain supplies amid a global food crisis.

Chicago Board of Trade reference wheat prices rose 50 percent to more than $ 13.60 a bushel after Russia’s February invasion halted deliveries of nearly a third of world wheat exports and went well for wheat.

Worsening harvest prospects in China and parts of Europe, followed by a ban on exports by major producer India, have tightened stocks and exacerbated global food supply concerns.

The United Nations has warned that the impact of the war on grain, oil, fuel and fertilizers could starve millions of people and could take years to resolve.

Washington has urged U.S. farmers to sow more winter wheat this fall, and the government has said it will allow the planting of some ecologically sensitive land starting this fall. But drought and costly agricultural resources could limit production gains, grain analysts say.

There are two wheat crops in the United States: spring wheat planted now and winter wheat planted in the fall that will be harvested soon. They both have problems.

Problems with planting spring wheat that farmers like Grotberg face come after the drought hit the winter wheat crop in Kansas, the fastest-growing state.

The potential for harvesting winter wheat in the United States has dropped by more than 25% due to severe drought. Kansas farmers could abandon thousands of acres of wheat in the fields this year instead of paying to harvest drought-burned grain.

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In North Dakota, too much water is the problem. A historic blizzard in April left large fields dotted with state potholes under more than 3 feet (1 m) of snow in some areas, triggering flooding as the flood melted.

Grotberg has so far managed to plant only about 500 acres (200 hectares) of wheat - only a quarter of the land he set out to sow - because of the wet conditions.

Seeds sown in moist soils may have difficulty coming to the surface or appear uneven, while heavy agricultural machinery may destroy excessively muddy fields, compact soils, or get stuck in mud.

Now Grotberg’s planting window closes quickly.

Wheat planted too late in the spring is likely to produce less grain or be exposed to the risk of frost before the crop is fully ripe.

“We’re stuck … Normally, we’re done planting wheat by this time,” Grotberg said.


Wet spring weather has almost assured that the bread basket in the northern United States will not produce an extraordinary harvest this year.

U.S. farmers have sown only 49 percent of the expected 22 acres of spring wheat since May 22, 2014, the slowest pace since 1996, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In North Dakota, which produces about half of the U.S. spring wheat, growers have planted only 27 percent of the crop, the second slowest rate in four decades.

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“Some farmers haven’t made a wheel yet,” said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. “If North Dakota fails to bring in a substantial amount, it will wreak havoc on the global market.”

Leaving the Wrinkled Winter Wheat

In the plains of the southern United States, winter wheat farmers have received very little rain and are worried about the size of their crops - or whether the wrinkled plants will simply have to be plowed.

A private group visiting wheat fields in Kansas in mid-May has estimated that its harvest will drop by 28% this year and more fields than normal could remain unharvested due to drought damage.

About 6% of the state’s planted hectares would be abandoned, according to the latest USDA estimates. However, given the damage caused by the drought, wheat agronomist at Kansas State University Romulo Lollato believes the dropout rate would be higher.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if 8%, 9%, 10% of the planted hectares are abandoned this year,” Lollato said.

In neighboring Colorado, dropout could exceed 30 percent, Colorado Wheat CEO Brad Erker told tournament participants.

“Wheat crops are affected by the weather in May, and we had a much drier one,” said Kansas farmer Vance Ehmke. “The trend is not our girlfriend.”


US wheat production declined in the long run as farmers favored corn and soybean production, which is more profitable due to demand from biofuel producers. Also, seed science has increased its production by 30% or more since 2000, exceeding only 6% for wheat.

Demand for biofuels is likely to continue to erode the wheat area as two new soybean processing plants are set to open in eastern North Dakota, including one from Archer-Daniels-Midland, which will supply Marathon Petroleum Corporation with oil. of soybeans for renewable diesel.

As the planting window in the northern plains narrows, farmers in North Dakota are weighing options that include switching to soybeans that can be sown later in the spring than wheat, or applying for insured plantings.

“It’s quite tempting to apply,” Grotberg said. “Once you enter June, you may be lucky enough to receive half the harvest. And at a high cost, that’s hard to bear. “

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago. Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Manhattan, Kansas. Editing by PJ Huffstutter and Marguerita Choy)

SUA Agribusiness

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