The latest forecast for the Kansas wheat crop quantified the pessimism that most in the industry have been feeling.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s June 1 forecast predicts that the state will produce 243.6 million bushels, down 24 percent from last year’s crop and the smallest since 1989.
Average yield is forecast at 29 bushels per acre, down 9 bushels per acre from last year and the lowest yield since 1996.
The USDA is forecasting that 8.4 million acres of wheat will be harvested, the same as last year.
The crop is a victim of the drought that settled over the state from late August to late May. The USDA forecast is down even from its May 1 prediction, by 6 percent.
Those in the industry grew increasingly worried about the condition of the wheat this spring, hoping that the skies would open up and replenish the moisture in the soil. If rains had hit even as late as May, the crop would have improved dramatically, said Dalton Henry, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Wheat Commission
“When the USDA came out with their numbers at the beginning of May, it was similar to what the Wheat Quality Council’s wheat tour (in late April) was forecasting, and since then we had two or three weeks of the worst possible weather, hot and dry and windy, that rushed that crop into maturing,” Henry said. “If we had the rain we’re having now in mid-May, it would be a totally different story for farmers.”
Last year was terrible for western Kansas because of the drought, while much of central Kansas enjoyed a bounty. This year, the drought parched both western and central portions of the state, cutting the state’s production by nearly a quarter from last year.
South-central Kansas is forecast to see yields of 28.5 bushels per acre and plenty of fields declared a total loss. The USDA is predicting that 12 percent of the planted acres won’t be harvested.
Adding injury to insult for Kansas wheat farmers, wheat prices dropped by more than 20 cents a bushel after the USDA also reported Wednesday that wheat stocks worldwide are plentiful. Wheat prices are still high compared to historic averages – in the neighborhood of $7 a bushel.
“I think it’s very discouraging for the producers who have had such poor harvest prospects to see such a price erosion hit at harvest time,” said Kent Winter, a Sedgwick County wheat farmer and president of the Sedgwick County Farm Bureau.
“It’s another example of what keeps this job so interesting,” he added. “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”