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Wheat market finds high gear

06/29/2012 @ 6:34pm

Wheat markets surged higher this week, led by corn and soybeans as those crops wither under intense heat and drought conditions across a huge portion of the US. Already, the weather and crop conditions are being compared to 1988, the last major drought in the Midwest; and for at least the next week it looks like there is little relief in sight. 

Indeed, what relief is showing in the longer range forecasts suggest that the massive heat dome will shift out of the Midwest and into the northern Plains, the one region of the country which had so far avoided most weather problems. That could spell trouble for a spring wheat crop that was off to a stellar start this year.

There is no doubt that the corn crop is in serious trouble. Soybeans aren’t far behind if the hot and dry conditions persist – which they are forecast to do. It doesn’t take much number crunching to calculate corn and bean ending stocks approaching zero, which obviously the market can’t allow to happen. The price rationing process has started and doesn’t look like it’s going to end soon.

To throw a little more drama into the soybean complex, it was widely rumored this week that Brazil, the world’s second largest soybean exporter, has over-committed on soybean exports due to their own drought. The talk was that they were actually looking to the US for soybean imports that they could use to fill their own obligations. That could really add fuel to the fire. 

Corn pollination is well under way in the south, where the extreme heat is clearly taking a toll. The rest of the Midwest will be pollinating over the next 2-3 weeks, of which at least the early days are still forecast for high 90’s and into the 100’s. It’s not unusual for thunderstorms to pop up in the high heat, and weather forecasts do call for some storms across the northern tier of the Midwest, but they are expected to produce only light and spotty rainfall.

Understandably, the market is focused on corn and soybeans during this weather event. But wheat is likely to be just as dynamic if those prices really explode higher, as the feed guys will have to come back for the corn substitute.

Wheat has a tendency to really run if it kicks into high gear, and large speculators are still net short. In addition, world wheat production estimates continue to decline with Russia, Ukraine and Europe all announcing lower expected output than their previous estimates. US stocks are also set to decline from last year, even with a larger crop. Throw in a little more feed usage and suddenly stocks get tight in a hurry.

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