Kansas Drought Takes Toll on Wheat and Early Alfalfa

May 26, 2011 04:25 AM
Kansas Drought Takes Toll on Wheat and Early Alfalfa

A week after the National Drought Mitigation Center upgraded drought conditions in Kansas, rains began falling across much of the state, but not enough to halt the drought. About half of Kansas—the nation’s top producer of winter wheat—is now suffering from severe or extreme drought, up from less than 20% two weeks earlier

On May 11, USDA forecast a winter wheat harvest of nearly 262 million bushels in Kansas, down 27% from a year ago. More than half, 55%, of Kansas’ winter wheat crop is rated poor or very poor, according to USDA’s latest Crop Progress report. Another 30% is in fair condition.
“It’s still uncertain whether the late rains will raise wheat production estimates,” says Daniel O’Brien, agricultural economist with Kanas State University Extension, Colby, Kan. “I think a lot of the damage has been done.
Tim Emslie, research manager for Country Hedging, Saint Paul, Minn., says both abandonment and yield are a concern for the Kansas wheat crop and that will impact global supply. He thinks the global stocks-to-use ratio for hard red winter wheat could drop below the tight level seen in 2007-08, the lowest since the mid-1980s. And he expects a stocks-to-use ratio for the 2011-12 crop of 13%, compared with 2007-08’s 14%.
“The soft red winter supply is more comfortable,” says Emslie. “And hard red spring wheat is somewhere in between.” He expects the stocks-to-use ratio for soft red wheat to be 36%, compared with 13% in 2007-08, and the hard red spring wheat to be close to 29%, compared with 12% in 2007-08. “Millers learned in 2007-08 the difference between what they needed and what they wanted,” he says, indicating that baking recipes can be changed somewhat.
As for Kansas wheat yields, Emslie expects hard red winter wheat to average between 36 and 36.5 bushels per acre, down substantially from trend yield of 41.4 bushels per acre. The 2002 Kansas crop yield was worse at 33 bushels per acre as was 2006’s at 32 bushels per acre.

First-cutting Alfalfa Yields Low

A vast majority of the western two-thirds of the state, where the bulk of Kansas’ commercial alfalfa crop is grown, is suffering from severe to extreme drought. “In central Kansas it’s so dry that there are places where growers aren’t even going to harvest a first cutting,” reports Steve Hessman, alfalfa reporter with USDA’s Hay Market News.
Non-irrigated alfalfa fields have yielded 0.5 go 0.75 tons per acre on first cutting, compared with a typical yield of more than 2 tons per acre, Hessman notes. While irrigated fields have done better, problems for those fields are building. “Some guys have had to pump a lot of water onto their land which they don’t like to do,” Hessman says. “I’ve talked to some guys who have already pumped half their annual allotment of water.”
Current alfalfa supplies in the state are light and feedlots have started to import hay from Nebraska, the Dakotas and as far away as Canada. “We’re low on grinding hay and dairy hay,” says Hessman. “And everyone is competing for the short supply. It’s a really aggressive market.”
Light-weight calves from drought-stricken Texas, where pastures are bone dry, are being shipped early to Kansas feedlots, which has put an additional burden on Kansas alfalfa supplies. Grinding hay began the season selling for about $150/ton, Hessman notes, but prices rose to between $170 and $185 within a few weeks. Clock contracts have sold for as much as $200/ton.

Summer Crops Faring Better

Recent rains in central and southwestern Kansas have likely benefited corn, soybeans, and other summer crops. “We expect summer crop planting to pick up,” says Emslie. “Milo will likely be the bulk of what’s planted as far as the flex acres are concerned.”
O’Brien agrees: “The moisture will certainly help the summer crops as subsoil moisture is replenished.
Kansas corn planting is nearly complete, with 91% of the state’s corn in the ground and 60% emerged as of May 22. Soybean planting was lagging its five-year average with only 28% of the beans planted, compared with an average of 34%. “There’s been some improvement in Kansas over the past 5 to 8 days, which has probably helped with the corn that’s already in the ground,” says Emslie.


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