By Jason Tidd
With wheat fields about a month from harvest, Kansas farmers are bracing for what is projected to be the worst wheat crop in 60 years or more.
“Wheat farmers have been living this every day,” said Marsha Boswell, a spokesperson for the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. “They’ve seen the effects of the drought since the crop was planted last fall. They’ve seen fields that didn’t emerge until the last couple weeks.
“What’s even more heartbreaking than that is the few fields that looked good a couple weeks ago are going downhill in areas that have missed out on recent rains. I think most farmers are just wanting to forget this year’s crop and move on to next year.”
Drought has taken a heavy toll.
And while more recent rains are welcome news for some fields, others will be abandoned, going unharvested.
“It’s a little too late to improve yields for this year’s wheat crop, but rain between now and harvest can help preserve the yield potential that’s currently there,” Boswell said. “It should help with kernel fill and test weights, and have a stabilizing yield effect for the acres that will go to harvest, rather than adding bushels.”
How much wheat will Kansas farmers harvest this year?
Kansas farmers planted an estimated 8.1 million acres of wheat in the fall, but the prolonged drought means roughly 27% is expected to be abandoned, far higher than normal. The fields that are harvested are expected to yield an average of 30 bushels per acre, based on the Wheat Quality Council’s hard winter wheat tour in Kansas.
The tour, completed Thursday, analyzed crops in 652 fields across the state. Yields in areas near Wichita and Manhattan were better than field yields farther west.
Projected statewide production is 178 million bushels, far below an average year. The USDA Economic Research Service wheat outlook earlier this month projected 191.4 million bushels.
The projections are down from 244 million bushels harvested in 2022 and 364 million bushels in 2021. The 2023 wheat crop in Kansas is shaping up to be the first since 1963 where production was below 200 million bushels. The lower wheat tour projections would be the worst crop since 1957.
Boswell said both projections are a snapshot in time of what is observed, and much can still change between now and when fields are harvested in the next three to six weeks.
Nationwide, the projected 514 million bushels of hard red winter wheat would be the worst production since 1958. The USDA outlook said that is “affected substantially by persistent drought which resulted in both lower yields and higher abandonment.”
The projected harvested-to-planted ratio for winter wheat overall is 67%, the lowest since 1917.
Total wheat variety production is forecasted at 1.66 billion bushels, down 7% from the 5-year average.
How bad is the drought in Kansas?
The federal government’s U.S. Drought Monitor reports that much of Kansas is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. Southwest Kansas is considered among the country’s driest areas.
Northwest Kansas did get some rain earlier this month, which the U.S. Drought Monitor reported as helping drought conditions.
“The rain also helped to revive winter wheat and benefited emerging summer crops,” the the USDA and National Drought Mitigation Center reported. “Still, even with the rain, Kansas led the nation on May 14 with 68% of its winter wheat rated in very poor to poor condition. In addition, the rampant storminess largely bypassed some of the extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) areas in a strip extending from southwestern Kansas into eastern Nebraska.”
In Dodge City, 21.55 inches of precipitation is an average year, according to the National Weather Service. Last year, Dodge City had 11.8 inches. This year, rainfall from January through April totaled 2.88 inches, compared to the normal 4.41 inches.
In Goodland, 18.28 inches is a average year. The National Weather Service reported 10.98 inches last year. For the first four months of this year, NWS recorded 3.01 inches, compared to the normal 3.69 inches.
Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday praised lawmakers for dedicating more money to addressing the worsening water crisis.
“Our farmers will do what they have done for centuries and they will weather this drought, and we on the state level will continue to look for ways to mitigate the problems caused by the lack of rain,” she said. “The Legislature did put a significant amount of funding towards the water issue, and I appreciate that.
“We will also be putting together that blue-ribbon task force that I’ve talked about before to really do a very deep dive and bring all the players to the table so that we can come up with a sustainable solution to this problem, because it’s not going away.” How much is the drought costing Kansas farmers?
Since 2010, the state’s annual wheat crop has averaged 325 million bushels, USDA data show. The wheat tour’s projected production would be 147 million bushels below that average.
With the USDA’s forecasted season-average farm price of $8 a bushel, the 147 million bushels would be valued at nearly $1.2 billion.
“It is definitely a huge economic hit to not only farmers, but also the rural communities where they live and others involved in the industry,” Boswell said. “The economic impact goes beyond the farmers themselves into other ag-related industries.”
Meanwhile, wheat prices are unlikely to cover input costs for farmers seeking to break even.
While the farm tour calculated average yields at 30 bushels per acre, fields in the low single digits could be zeroed-out to collect crop insurance payments.
“It doesn’t matter what the price of wheat is if you don’t have any to harvest,” she said.
Boswell said this year emphasizes the need for crop insurance ahead of Congress preparing for a new Farm Bill.
“As we head into a new Farm Bill, it is essential to continue to provide a strong safety net for our farmers,” she said. “Without a safety net, years like this will be even more detrimental to our family farms and our rural communities.”
Will food cost more at the grocery store?
While many factors go into prices of flour and bread at the grocery store, and grain supply and demand operate in a global marketplace, consumers are already paying higher costs.
Consumer price increases for wheat-based products outpaced inflation of other foods last year, the USDA reported.
Prices for flour and prepared flour mixes were nearly 19% higher in 2022, compared to 9.9% inflation for all food. Bread, bakery products, breakfast cereal and other related categories all saw greater inflation than food as a whole.
“Consumer price changes tend to lag price changes at the commodity level, partly based on the tendency of processors to purchase inputs well in advance,” the agency reported in February. “Rising input prices for non-wheat ingredients — such as eggs and butter, which tend to feature prominently in wheat food products — in addition to elevated labor and fuel expenses have all contributed to wheat food price inflation in 2022.”
What about wheat exports amid the Russia-Ukraine war?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year significantly cut wheat exports, caused prices to spike and raised fears of worsening global hunger.
Last summer, the two countries plus Turkey and the United Nations signed deal to reopen Black Sea trade routes. Grain exports returned to near normal afterward, USDA reports show.
Recent uncertainty over the future of the agreement amid Russian threats to pull out were quelled Wednesday when negotiators reached a deal for a two-month extension.
“I welcome the confirmation by the Russian Federation to continue its participation in the Black Sea Initiative for another 60 days,” António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, said in a tweet. “Even in the darkest hours, there is always a beacon of hope & an opportunity to find solutions that benefit everyone.”
This article has been republished from The Cjonline