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Storm Seen Easing Drought for Moisture-Starved U.S. Wheat

February 26, 2013

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The second major snowstorm in a week for the southern Great Plains is delivering moisture to U.S. wheat crops that went dormant in November in the worst condition since at least 1985 because of a drought.

More than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow was expected to fall in parts of the region, four days after a storm brought as much as 20 inches, National Weather Service data show. The precipitation may boost crop prospects in areas where fields have deteriorated after the most-severe drought since the 1930s, said Kim Anderson, an agronomist at Oklahoma State University.

"It won’t break the drought, but this storm will be enough to get wheat that’s established up and out of the ground and set it up for the rest of the year," Anderson said in a telephone interview from Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Many areas of the Plains face exceptional-drought conditions, which signal crop losses and water emergencies, according to the government. Winter wheat, a variety that accounts for more than 70 percent of total U.S. production, has been dormant since about November and will resume growth in March and April. The crop is mostly harvested in June. Prices surged 19 percent last year.

Since the end of December, wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade have dropped 9.4 percent. The price for May delivery fell 1.9 percent to settle at $7.0525 a bushel after touching $7.04, the lowest for a most-active contract since June 25.


Crop Conditions


Wheat conditions in Kansas improved in February because of snow, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today. The crop was rated 23 percent good or excellent as of yesterday, up from 20 percent at the end of January.

Each foot of snow means about an inch of moisture for plants, according to Kansas State University agronomist Jim Shroyer. The storms will improve prospects for hard-red winter wheat, grown from Kansas through Texas and used to make bread, said Bryce Anderson, a senior agricultural meteorologist at Telvent DTN in Omaha, Nebraska. Soft-red winter varieties used in cakes and cookies are planted in the eastern Midwest.

More rain will be needed in March and April to boost plants, Anderson said. Today’s snow may be the last major storm for the region through April as forecasts call for conditions to be drier than normal, Anderson said in a telephone interview.

"They’re going to need more spring precipitation to truly improve things because the wheat in the southern Plains went into the winter on the dry side," Anderson said. "For the next month to two months, it still looks like they’re going to be on a below-normal tract on the moisture scene."

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RELATED TOPICS: Wheat, Crops, Livestock, Cattle, drought

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