May 12, 2011

Drought likely to affect Kansas wheat

A report predicting a 27 percent drop in production doesn't take into account recent dry weather.

The Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. - Drought-plagued Kansas farmers are expected to harvest far less winter wheat this season from fewer acres, according to a new government report released Wednesday.

In its monthly crop report, Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service predicted the state's winter wheat production will be down 27 percent from last year to 261.8 million bushels. That would be the lowest production in Kansas since 1996.

But the government report is based on crop conditions on May 1 -- before the recent triple-digit temperatures that hit the drought-plagued state.

"I don't think the story has been completely told yet," said Justin Gilpin, the chief executive officer of the industry trade group Kansas Wheat.

The new numbers don't include the worsening drought conditions in southwest Kansas and the high temperatures the state has gotten this week, he said.

"I don't think that these numbers take into account the stress the Kansas crop has had just within the last couple of days," Gilpin said. "So unfortunately, I think there is even more potential downside to this number."

KASS reported that 7.7 million acres expected to be harvested would be the lowest harvested wheat acreage since 1957. Yields are expected to average 34 bushels an acre. That is 11 bushels per acre fewer than last year for the lowest yield since 2007.

Citing the lack of rain and the heat stress, Gilpin predicted Kansas wheat growers would have a higher-than-average abandonment of wheat acres. Industry leaders are anticipating wheat acreage abandonment of more than 20 percent, something that has happened maybe twice in the past 25 years, he said. Most of those abandoned acres likely will be in southwest and west-central Kansas which has been hardest hit by drought conditions.

"The story is the abandonment and trying to figure out what that final production number is going to be," he said.

At his western Kansas farm, wheat grower David Schemm has already abandoned roughly 1,800 wheat acres -- about 40 to 40 percent of his planted acres. His insurance adjuster last month estimated those fields would only bring at most 2 or 3 bushels an acre.

Schemm has already sprayed herbicide on the abandoned wheat fields to destroy the remaining wheat so he can plant milo this spring.

The 40-year-old Sharon Springs farmer said he tried to be proactive in marketing his 2011 wheat crop by contracting last fall about roughly 20 to 30 percent of his anticipated production with the grain elevator at $6 a bushel.

"Nobody knows the future and at that time with input costs I had put in there, I figured at $6 I could show a profit margin and lock that in," he said. "Then, as I watched the wheat price crawl up, I kind of cringed more and more. Uh-oh."

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