How Bad Was Winter for Wheat? In Kansas, We're About to See

(Bloomberg) -- More than 90 traders, farmers and other interested parties will head out into the plains of Kansas on Tuesday with the aim of finding out just how tough it’s really been for this season’s hard red winter wheat crop.

The annual Wheat Quality Council crop tour is the first opportunity of the year to systematically inspect multiple fields and assess the damage from dry and unusually cold weather, which has included two major freeze events.

The winter crop in the U.S. is typically planted in September and October. It’s harvested starting in June; before that happens, tour participants -- including representatives from food companies like Grupo Bimbo SAB, JM Smucker Co. and General Mills Inc. -- will asses the likely level of production.

They will count grain heads and tillers -- the lateral stems that grow from each plant -- in wheat fields every 15 miles (24 kilometers) along several predetermined routes. The group will issue a crop forecast for the state on May 3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues its first estimate on May 10.

“I know that there is some damage to the heads, but in our area, the extremely dry weather is probably just as concerning,” said Ken Wood, president of farming organization Kansas Wheat and the owner of Riverside Stock Farm Inc., which grows wheat and other crops in the state. “I’m anxious for the tour to commence so that we can get a broader perspective on the conditions.”

Measuring the damage to this year’s immature crop will be more difficult than normal after rains last week helped plants to recover some of their yield potential. At the same time, plant growth has stalled after one of the coldest Aprils in more than 120 years, which gives some fields a better chance of recovering from freezing temperatures and drought, according to Daryl Strouts, executive director for Kansas Wheat Alliance.

“The crop was within days of dying before the rains came,” said Troy Presley, a manager for Cheney, Kansas-based Comark Grain Marketing LLC. “Now we have the moisture and we will wait to see how it responds. Yield potential has already been reduced by the dry weather and freezing temperatures.”

Kansas production could range from 245 million bushels to 285 million, down from the 334 million harvested last year, Presley predicted.

Hard red winter wheat for July delivery rose 1.7 percent to $5.39 3/4 a bushel at 9:15 a.m. in Chicago.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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