Cold hammers Plains wheat . . . again

04/24/2013 @ 9:07am

Mother Nature's moving backwards in the central Plains. As the calendar edges closer to what's typically the warmth of spring, temperatures continue to hover below the freezing mark in some areas, causing major concerns that the region's wheat crop may be nearing its end.

"I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record here, but at 6:45 p.m. locally, we are already below freezing," Marketing Talk adviser Shaggy98 said on Tuesday evening. "This might very well do in what remains of the central Kansas wheat crop.

"There isn't a whole lot of wheat left south of me. Possibly some in eastern Oklahoma, but southwest Kansas . . . is already pretty well shot," he adds.

Temperatures are forecast to dip into the 30s in most of Kansas through Thursday, with the northwest corner of the state and much of Nebraska dipping into the 20s. But the damage may have already been done, according to Kansas Wheat communication director and wheat farmer Bill Spiegel.

"We’re in a wait-and-see mode for the wheat crop. I think the western 2/5 of the state is toast. The south-central part of the state looked good last week, but has had two freezes since," Spiegel says. "Central and north-central are on the bubble. Eastern Kansas is tough to tell -- not enough wheat for us to get too concerned about, but it looked good this spring.

"Wheat is a hardy crop. With good moisture and average temperatures in the next several weeks, we could see at best a fair crop in parts of the state, with yield coming from secondary tillers," he adds. "In many of these areas, however, it is hard to be optimistic about rain chances when it has been so dry for so long."

Tracy Zeorian agrees. The eastern Nebraska-based custom harvester says she's still optimistic that the crop will bounce back. "Unless it's torn up, the yields aren't known until the combine is in the field! It can surprise you," she says.

Damage has been done. The crop is hurting. So why hasn't the wheat trade shot higher on the notion that up to 100 million bushels of wheat could be lost?

"It's a big amount, but the real issue is this tells us how much competition there is in the world. Our wheat values are still higher than the rest of the world," says broker and market analyst Don Roose with U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa. "Another thing on wheat is we were running 17% of world production just a while back, and now we're at 9%. We just don't carry the weight we once did."

That's not to say there isn't upside potential for the wheat market coming up soon. That's going to come alongside potential higher movement in the other grains, namely corn.

"You see spring wheat plantings at 7% right now, but that's all in the Pacific Northwest. Nothing's been planted in the Dakotas and Minnesota," Roose says. "I think as we approach the first of May, then the trade is going to want to see the corn crop go in."