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Kansas Winter Wheat Yields Projected to Fall 19% as Drought Curbs Output

Production Pegged at Lowest Since 1989.

Hard red winter wheat yields in Kansas are forecast to fall 19% year over year as ongoing dry weather since planting in the fall curbs plant growth.

Yields were pegged at 37 bushels an acre by participants on the Wheat Quality Council’s annual tour of the state this week. That’s down from 48 bushels an acre last year. If realized, the total would be tied for the smallest since 2015, according to the USDA.

Little or no has fallen in the past six months in much of southwestern Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, according to the National Weather Service. Precipitation levels in northwestern Kansas look better, but other than a small sliver of the state, rain totals are well behind normal, NWS maps show.

“It’s not disease, though we saw some; it’s not insects, though we saw some; it’s not freeze damage, though we saw some. The story is that it’s late because of drought and cool temperatures,” said the Wheat Quality Council’s Dave Green. “The crop’s late, and it gets scary trying to forecast crop yields when that happens.”

Total production was pegged at 243.3 million bushels in Kansas, the Wheat Quality Council said, down by about 90 million bushels from last year. If realized, that would be the lowest total since 1989, according to the USDA.

Rain in the next two months would help the crop immensely. Green said he stopped at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center in Hays and looked at wheat that was about 3 inches high.

“I told them ‘this wheat is dead – it doesn’t know it yet, but it can’t get through jointing, tillering, boot, heading and all that in time – it’s a goner,’ ” he said. “The (agronomists) said the same thing happened two years ago and it rained and rained and it was overcast and stayed cool, and they had record yields. So it could happen, but it’s not an even-money bet.”

One farmer from Colby, Kansas, told Green that he always harvests on the Fourth of July, and this year will be no different. Growers who plan to collect their grain in early July essentially have 90 days of growth left with only 60 days to go. The implication, he said, is that plant progress needs to accelerate for output to have any chance of being at or above average.

The news is worse in Oklahoma where production is pegged at 58.4 million bushels, down 41% from last year and well behind the prior five-year average of 97.4 million bushels. If realized, the total would be the lowest since 2014, according to the USDA.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the entire western third of Oklahoma, including the panhandle, is experiencing an exceptional drought, the worst rating possible.

Mark Hodges, the president of Plains Grains and Oklahoma Genetics, who presented the Oklahoma data to those on the Kansas Wheat Tour, said the problem intensifies the farther west one goes. The Drought Monitor is pretty much spot on, he said.

“From the Texas panhandle to the Kansas border, they got virtually no rain from the time they planted” through this week, Hodges said. “They ended up with erratic stands and what is there never developed a root system and there’s not a lot of tillers.”

Many producers were allowing cattle to graze their fields as it’s unlikely they’d be able to turn a profit given prices and the cost of inputs, though some may attempt to make a crop out of what they have, he said.

“With the prices where they’re at, they’re not sure what they’re going to do,” Hodges said. “If they’re looking at 14 to 20 bushels an acre potential, they aren’t going to put any more money into it.”

Plants are at least two weeks behind where they should be this time of year, he said. Much of the wheat is 12 to 18 inches tall and headed out, but the heads are extremely small, indicating there’s not much potential for growth.

The Oklahoma Wheat Commission pegged the crop at 63 million bushels, while trade groups including elevator managers said 58 million bushels, both of which are possible, Hodges said.

“They’re at the top end of where I’m at, but if we get some timely moisture and everything goes right, we’ll be in the upper 50s or lower 60s,” he said. “With no root systems, though, if those hot, dry winds hit, it’ll go the other way real quick.”

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