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Winter Wheat Off to a Rocky Start

This year’s hard red winter wheat crop is in a perilous position. While some rain fell from southeast Kansas through Oklahoma into northeast Texas, less than half an inch has fallen in the region this November. Some areas received even less rain.

“Winter wheat has had a tougher start than normal in southwest Nebraska,” said Marshall Nelms, who works with insurance officers in western Nebraska and is involved in his family’s farming operation. “The wheat planted in summer fallow rotations has average emergence and has some good potential yet. The wheat seeded in continuous rotations has below-average emergence and, in some of the driest areas, spotty emergence with some spots of no emergence due to the need for more moisture. 

“It is early in the growing season, but it certainly makes it tougher to grow an above-average crop in 2021.”

The recent dry spell compounds the challenges for farmers in southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas, who faced drought conditions this past growing season, said Tony Jesina, senior vice president for crop insurance.

Many producers delayed planting, waiting for rain that never materialized. They then had to plant into dust as the drought widened.

“The crop is behind going into winter, making it more susceptible to winter kill,” Jesina said.

U.S. Drought Monitor November 17 2020

Image Source: The National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

With 89% of the crop emerged as of November 22, 2020, 21% is rated poor/very poor and 43% good/excellent by USDA’s National Ag Statistic Service. This compares with 14% on the low end and 52% on the high end at the same time last year.

Looking at some key states, only South Dakota has really been spared.

 

Emerged

Condition

Short topsoil moisture

All numbers are %

Poor / very poor

Good / excellent

 

KANSAS

92

26

29

66

NEBRASKA

97

20

39

64

OKLAHOMA

92

14

48

41

SOUTH DAKOTA

97

3

64

53

TEXAS

77

38

24

69

 

Looking ahead

In October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an official La Niña event. The current magnitude is “moderate,” the strongest since the winter of 2011-12. NOAA forecasts a 95% chance it will continue through the winter and a 65% chance into the spring.

“This suggests continued dryness in the Plains is possible, while active storm patterns bring rain and snow to the Pacific Northwest and across the northern states,” according to Jeff Doran, meteorologist and director of special services at Planalytics.

Marketing implications

Starting out short on moisture gives producers pause in marketing their crop, even during good rallies, Jesina said.

“That’s where Revenue Protection comes in,” he said. “We recommend working even more closely with your crop insurance agent to understand your protection so you can feel confident locking in rallies prompted by weather worries.”

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