Stripe rust has hit Kansas with a vengeance, and that does not bode well for the nation’s hard red winter wheat crop.
“This is definitely an above average year for stripe rust and other wheat diseases in Kansas,” said Erick De Wolf, a plant pathologist for Kansas State University. “We are seeing at least moderate levels of stripe rust in most of the state, and the disease is moderate to severe in the south-central, central, and north-central part of the state.”
Caused by cool, wet weather, stripe rust is a fungal disease that limits the ability of the plant to develop grain. Ironically, however, the conditions that have made the Kansas wheat crop ripe for disease are also helping yield potential, but it looks like disease will win out.
According to USDA’s latest Crop Progress report, only 30% of the state’s winter wheat was in good to excellent condition as of May 25, and 30% was in fair to poor condition.
New variants of stripe rust are proving more tolerant to warmer temperatures, such as those in Kansas, as well as in Texas and Oklahoma, two other states battling the disease this year.
“The disease pressures have come on strong,” said Dan O’Brien, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.
Kansas is the nation’s largest producer of hard red winter wheat, which is typically harvested in late June or early July. With abundant world wheat supplies, the current situation in Kansas has had little impact so far wheat prices, but that could change.
“The big issue is exports,” says O’Brien. While new-crop wheat exports are expected to build to 925 million bu. from 860 million bu. for the 2014-15 crop year, they are still expected to be much lower than the 1 billion to 1.2 billion bu. that the United States can export in a good year, he adds.
“We are not anticipating large feed usage, and food usage is just steady Eddie,” he said.
The Wheat Quality Council’s recent survey of the Kansas wheat crop conducted between May 4 and May 7 projects an average yield of 35.9 bu. per acre, well above 2014’s actual 28 bu. per acre but below 2013’s 38 bu. per acre.
De Wolf thinks a 5% or greater statewide average yield loss is possible due to this year’s wheat diseases.
Currently USDA is projecting a 2015-16 all-wheat price of $4.50 to $5.50, but O’Brien expects the average new-crop all-wheat price to average closer to $5.50 per bushel.
However, with disease already a major problem, and El Niño now official, world wheat production could be much smaller than expected.
“An El Niño can create dry conditions in Australia,” O’Brien noted. “If we have problems and Australia has problems, all of these projections could be low.”
He gives a one in four chance that average wheat yields this year will be lower than expected leading to tighter stocks. If that happens, O’Brien suggested that the U.S. average wheat price could go to $6.20 or $6.25 per bushel. That would still be lower than USDA’s latest estimate for the 2014-15 average price of $6.80, but much better than current new-crop projections. In May, the USDA projected an all wheat season-average farm price of $4.50 to $5.50 per bushel.
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