Kansas Crop Tour Shows Wheat Production Will Rebound 17% in 2015

The wheat harvest in Kansas, the biggest U.S. grower, will rebound 17 percent this year after rains helped rescue plants from dry conditions.

Output will rise to 288.5 million bushels, participants on a three-day annual crop tour estimated, on average. That compares with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 estimate of 246.4 million, which was the lowest since 1989. Before the tour, analysts forecast that production would reach 298 million.

Showers in April worked to revive crop prospects across the state and helped farmers escape a second year of drought losses. Wheat prices are near the lowest since June 2010 after bumper harvests in the European Union, Russia, Ukraine and India pushed global reserves to a five-year high. Grain gluts are helping to keep world food costs in check.

“Obviously, rainfall has made a big difference,” said Paul Penner, a wheat farmer based in Hillsboro, Kansas, whose fields were surveyed as part of this year’s Wheat Quality Council Tour. “If it wasn’t for the rain starting about three weeks ago, we would have hardly anything. It was that critical. We were on the verge of disaster again.”

About 68 percent of Kansas was in moderate to exceptional drought as of May 5, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s down from 99 percent a year earlier. In some parts of the state, April rains were more than double the average.

Higher Yields

The showers will help boost yields this year to an average 35.9 bushels an acre, the results of the crop tour showed. Thats up from 33.2 bushels estimated on the tour last year, and compares with the USDA’s final estimate of 28 bushels.

The Wheat Quality Council, based in Brighton, Colorado, organized the tour for more than 90 analysts, farmers, flour millers and grain traders. They stopped at 659 fields in Kansas and parts of Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Wheat futures for July delivery fell 1.4 percent to $4.7275 a bushel Thursday on the Chicago Board of Trade. Prices slumped 36 percent in the past 12 months, and touched $4.6075 on May 5, the lowest since June 30, 2010.

Bigger yields for Kansas crops coupled with favorable conditions for fields from Texas to Nebraska will help boost total U.S. wheat production, analysts predict. The 2015 crop will probably rise 3.6 percent from a year earlier to 2.098 million bushels, according to the average of 20 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. The USDA will release its first estimates of the season at noon on May 12 in Washington.

Central Kansas

Not all farms are in better shape than last year. Results from the first day of the crop tour showed that yields in parts of central Kansas were poised to be lower than in 2014. Yields were estimated at 34.3 bushels an acre in a survey of 284 fields, that also covered parts of Nebraska. That was down from 34.7 bushels a year earlier and compared with the five-year average of 42.5 bushels.

In northern Oklahoma, fields along Highway 64 were filled with crops that there thick and green, and some plants grew to as tall as waist-high. Red, muddy soil was helping to nourish the wheat that was headed and about six weeks away from being harvested.

“I saw lots better wheat than I did the first day,” Ben Handcock, the executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, said after the second day of the tour that stopped at fields in Oklahoma. “If they don’t get a hailstorm, they’re in pretty good shape. The wheat was about 28 inches high. That’s the way wheat should look.”

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