SMITH CENTER, Kansas (Reuters) - Wheat in northern Kansas badly needs rain and warmer temperatures to fend off a crop shortfall after farmers planted the fewest acres in a century, scouts on an annual crop tour found on Tuesday.
Kansas is the largest wheat producer in the United States, the world’s No. 2 exporter of the food grain after top supplier Russia. Because of drought in the southern Plains, K.C. July hard red winter wheat futures are up about 25 percent so far in 2018.
Wheat plants were short and immature and soils were dry in northeast and north-central Kansas, scouts on the Wheat Quality Council tour said. The conditions underscored a late start to planting last autumn and the challenges ahead. Few plants had yet formed a head of grain.
“Typically harvest time for this wheat would be in about six weeks. Plants to need make a head and fill out the grain kernels. The window of time to do that is closing,” said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer on the Kansas Wheat Commission and a scout on the tour.
Yield potential through seven stops averaged 37.8 bushels per acre in fields in Riley, Clay, Cloud, Republic, Jewell and Smith counties. That is down slightly from the tour’s year-ago average for the same areas of 38.8 bpa and a five-year average of about 42.9, according to Wheat Quality Council data.
However, with the crop about two to four weeks behind schedule, those yields were not ensured, Gilpin added.
The three-day crop tour began in Manhattan, Kansas, and was to stop later on Tuesday in the town of Colby, in the northwest portion of the state. Final tour yield and production results will be released on Thursday.
Farmers had scaled back wheat plantings due to low prices. On the tour, representatives from milling and baking companies were getting their broadest look at the crops.
Theron Haresnape, who farms wheat near Smith Center, was considering abandoning his wheat crop due to the drought conditions impacting much of the state. A crop insurance adjuster estimated his wheat would yield 12 to 15 bushels per acre.
“If I get 10 or less (bpa), I would plant soybeans. Right now, I’m leaning toward leaving it,” Haresnape said during a crop tour stop at a cafe, indicating he would not tear up his wheat.
His crop adjuster, Alan Grauerholz of Rain & Hail insurance, said plants must be counted even if they do not end up making grain.
“According to procedure, if it’s green and alive, you count it,” Grauerholz said.
Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown