USDA Predicts Decline in U.S. Spring Wheat Planted Area as Dryness Continues in the Northern Plains
By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst
According to the March 31 USDA 2021 Prospective Plantings report, total U.S. total spring wheat planted area is expected to fall to 11.7 million acres (4.34 million hectares), down 4% from last year, if realized. This estimate includes 10.9 million acres (4.41 million hectares) of hard red spring (HRS), down 5% from last year and down 6% from the 5-year average.
“We agree with USDA estimates that spring wheat acres will be down this year,” said one U.S.-based grain trader. “We’ve heard producers in the Dakotas and Minnesota say it would take a $7.00 per bushel cash price for HRS for them to plant more of it,” he continued.
The trade believes producers are going to plant corn and soybeans “fence post to fence post” this year in the Northern Plains.
USDA expects durum planted area to total 1.54 million acres (623,000 hectares), down 9% from last year and down 19% from the 5-year average.
For all U.S. wheat, USDA now expects planted area for harvest in 2021 to total 46.4 million acres (18.8 million hectares), up 4% on the year due to significant increases in both hard red winter (HRW) and soft red winter (SRW) planted area.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the Northern Plains is abnormally to extremely dry. Farmers like to plant spring wheat early to increase yield potential and dry field conditions help them get spring wheat in the ground. But if adequate precipitation doesn’t follow April planting, persistent dryness could challenge spring wheat germination and yield potential.
USDA expects North Dakota farmers to plant 5.60 million acres (2.27 million hectares) of HRS for harvest in 2021, down 2% from last year.
“USDA’s number came in slightly higher than our expectations at only about 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) less than last year,” said Erica Olson, North Dakota Wheat Commission’s Market Development and Research Manager. According to Olson, HRS acres could fall below USDA’s expectations following continued strength in corn and soybean futures prices.
While all the state is moderately to severely dry, some areas in southeastern North Dakota do have adequate subsoil moisture to get the young wheat established.
“Farmers haven’t had good precipitation since last summer,” said Olson, “they’ll take any precipitation they can at this point.”
USDA expects North Dakota durum planted area to fall substantially in 2021 to 1.50 million acres (607,000 hectares), down 18% from last year on more competitive canola and soybean prices in the northwest region of the state. However, Olson believes North Dakota producers could plant more durum acres than USDA expects based on competitive durum cash prices which are trading at least a $1.00/bu premium to HRS in most parts of the state.
USDA predicts Minnesota farmers will seed 1.40 million acres (557,000 hectares) of HRS for harvest in 2021, down 3% from last year but in line with industry expectations.
Extreme dryness in Minnesota wheat country has producers concerned.
“I talk to a lot of farmers. This is the first time since 1988 that we are planting into dust with no subsoil moisture. Our farmers are not used to planting into dust and praying for rain,” said Charlie Vogel, Executive Director of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council.
But dry field conditions help spring wheat planted area. “This year, we’re not trying to plant around wet areas, we don’t have mud or slews in the field. Given the dryness, I believe every acre can be seeded,” continued Vogel.
Vogel believes Minnesota producers could see a record crop if timely precipitation follows April planting. “We only need an early May rain to change everything. We will be planted and insured at profitable levels. And we will spend a lot of time in church praying for rain,” he said.
Montana producers intend to plant 2.90 million acres (1.17 million hectares) of HRS in 2021, down 12% from last year, but in line with the 5-year average. Montana spring and winter wheat acres typically share an inverse relationship and this year is no different. Montana winter wheat acres are up 13% on the year at 1.75 million acres (708,000 hectares).
“Producers were able to get a lot of winter wheat in the ground in fall 2020, significantly more than they could in fall 2019 due to poor weather conditions, this pressures available area for HRS come April,” said another grain trader.
According to Sam Anderson, Industry Analyst and Outreach Coordinator at the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, dryness has producers on edge, but favorable spring wheat prices will encourage them to plant into dry soil, despite the drought risk.
However, “If the weather remains dry throughout planting, we may see some acres going fallow to conserve soil moisture for the 2022 crop year,” said Anderson.
Updated Winter Wheat Estimates
On March 31, USDA revised the country’s total winter wheat planted estimate to 33.1 million acres (13.4 million hectares), up 3% from its January estimate and up 9% from last year.
The hard red winter (HRW) planted area forecast fell slightly from January to 22.2 million acres (8.99 million hectares), up 8% from last year, if realized.
The soft red winter (SRW) planted area estimate increased 3% from January to 6.42 million acres (2.60 million hectares), up 14% from last year and up 11% from the 5-year average on favorable planting conditions.
USDA’s white winter wheat planted area forecast is stable at 3.48 million acres (1.41 million hectares), in line with 2020. USDA expects total white wheat acres, planted in both winter and spring, will total 4.28 million acres (1.73 million hectares), up 4% from last year and up 4% from the 5-year average.
Visit the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) website for more market and crop information and analysis at https://www.uswheat.org/market-and-crop-information/.