American farmers have likely planted another small winter wheat crop, says an industry official.

U.S. Growers seeded 32.5 million acres in 2018 and 32.7 million acres in 2017, the two smallest crops in the past 20 years. Prior to those two down years, winter wheat had typically been in the 40 to 45 million acre range in the United States.

Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of Kansas Wheat, said the expectation was for a rebound in winter wheat plantings in 2019. Decent cash prices and good soil moisture conditions this fall had experts forecasting a 10 to 15 percent increase in acres. “Then we got delays in the fall harvest and just a lot of those intentions didn’t materialize,” he said. “We had one of the wettest Octobers on record.”

Wichita, Kansas, received 160 millimetres of rain that month, which is almost three times the normal amount but well short of the record of 240 millimetres set in 1998. The wet weather pushed the soybean harvest way back. In fact, there are still some soybeans standing in the fields. Farmers in the southern U.S. Plains like to double crop winter wheat behind soybeans. The late harvest spoiled those plans.

“That’s where a lot of winter wheat that was intended to get planted didn’t get planted,” said Gilpin.

He estimates hard red winter wheat plantings in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas will be down 10 percent. Those three states account for half of total U.S. winter wheat acres.

The losses in the southern Plains will likely be partially offset by gains in northern states like Montana, South Dakota, Colorado and Washington. Gilpin also anticipates an increase in soft red winter wheat acres.

“When it’s all said and done the U.S. may be about flat on winter wheat acres, certainly not what (growers) were originally intending to plant,” he said.

Informa Economics is forecasting 31.5 million acres of winter wheat, one million acres less than last year.

Bruce Burnett, director of markets and weather with Glacier’s MarketsFarm, said acres are up in the European Union and the Black Sea region.

It was dry at planting time, which caused some farmers to switch to winter wheat instead of winter rapeseed. Rains in October and November eased the dryness concerns and got crops in Europe, Russia and Ukraine off to a nice start. “I would say the crops went into dormancy in fairly good condition,” said Burnett. “They’re all in pretty good shape so far.”

It has been a mild winter in Russia’s winter wheat growing regions and the forecast is for more of the same so winterkill likely won’t be an issue. “There’s a lot that can happen, but for now things are looking pretty good,” he said.

Gilpin is keenly interested to see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s winter wheat estimate, which was scheduled to be released on Jan. 11. But he will have to wait a little longer as a government shutdown has delayed publication of the report.

In September, the USDA issued a forecast calling for a seven million acre decline in soybean acres, with four million of that going to wheat and the remainder to corn. “We’re certainly not going to see that four million acre increase that was being bandied about,” he said.

But the hard red winter wheat crop that did get planted in the southern Plains was in good shape heading into dormancy. The same wet weather that prevented some farmers from seeding the crop helped what did get planted get off to a good start.

“The wheat that did get up and established has benefited from the moisture. It looks like we have decent root structure,” said Gilpin.

The crop is in better condition than it was at the same time the last two years when there were dry conditions in the southern Plains.

Source: Sean Pratt, The Western Producer